The Best Pet of All
Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama
Published by Dutton Children’s Books in 2004
I like The Best Pet of All. It is a cute story. The illustrations are cute. The main character is a cute little boy. And the best pet is cute, too. But I’ve never heard anyone recommend it or use it as an example of a great picture book.
“Why not?” I wondered.
Then I remembered a really cute story that I wrote about ten years ago. I bravely sent it off to one of the big New York houses. And I actually got a personal reply from an editor. I was thrilled!
She thought my story was really cute, BUT—it was too slight.
What the diddly did that mean?
So, I set out on a search for an explanation of slight. I got several opinions. I finally concluded that a picture book story that is slight is missing a critical ingredient. It’s missing a premise. It’s missing a core dramatic issue that is played out through the plot and brought to satisfaction at the conclusion.
According the Nancy Lamb in Crafting Stories for Children, “The premise is what your book is about. Premise is not the plot. It is the underlying idea that supports the plot…Think of premise as the foundation of your plot, the essential truth you want to convey. Premise is the truth that gives shape to your story and meaning to the lives of your characters.” (p. 176)
My story was cute and funny. But it had no premise. No foundation. It had nothing of substance to make it appeal to a wide audience. Nothing to make a thoughtful child read it again and again.
It couldn’t satisfy the editor’s question of why the story should exist.
The Best Pet of All is, in my opinion, another slight story. The main character doesn’t undergo change. He gets what he wants—the pet—but he doesn’t grow.
Question: Have you been working on a story that just isn’t coming together and you don’t know why? Try to write the underlying idea of your story in a clause or sentence. Try answering the question, “Why should I publish/read this particular story? What is it going to leave me with? What am I going to take away from this story?”
Other than a few chuckles, that is.