When I was a kid, one of my favorite picture books was If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond. As an adult and a children’s book editor who would love to acquire a book as successful as Mouse, I’ve often pondered what’s made it so successful. There’s that adorable mouse in overalls, of course, and something about the idea of cookies and milk is very comforting. But I think it’s more than that; I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the book is written in second person.
The second person point-of-view brings the reader right into the story. You’re a part of the action. You’re the one who’s given the mouse the cookie, and gets to watch everything that ensues! In a different way, second person can be perfect for giving instructions in a picture book, instructions which usually end up forming a story, too.
It’s also not an easy POV to get right. I’ve read submissions written in second person and found the POV to be distracting. But when you do get it right, I think it makes for a very appealing read aloud. In fact, I’ve got two picture books coming out soon with second person points-of-view: If You’re Going to a March by Martha Freeman and Violet Kim and When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie LB Deenihan and Lorraine Rocha—so it seems I’m on a quest to find my own Mouse.
Here’s a look at some other recently published favorites written in second person:
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
- Another fantastic cause-and-effect story, but without the silliness of Mouse. Second person doesn’t have to be silly!
Your Alien by Tammi Sauer and Goro Fujita and When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore and Howard McWilliam
- These two choose to tell a story in second person as if directing the reader’s imagination. What would happen if you made an alien friend? What would happen if a dragon moved into your sandcastle?
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel
- Instructions give way to sweet sentiments about the magic of reading in this wonderful example of a “How to” picture book.
Love by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long
- With illustrations that are often drawn from the perspective of the viewer, this powerful book uses second person to deliver its moving message directly to the reader.
Talking directly to the reader may not be the right strategy for your story, but it never hurts to experiment. I hope these examples above help spark something for you!
Christina is giving away a critique of a picture book manuscript! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must comment on each post, be registered, and consistently read picture books throughout the challenge.
Christina Pulles joined Sterling Children’s Books in June 2015, and before that worked at Simon & Schuster’s Simon Spotlight imprint. She loves working on everything from board books to fiction and nonfiction picture books to middle grade.