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What does Downton Abbey have to do with picture books?

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I’ve been an avid viewer of the popular Sunday night series “Downton Abbey” on PBS. It’s not often that my TV viewing tastes coincide with a huge population, but this show has hit some pretty impressive numbers.

As a story-teller myself, I wonder what makes a show catch fire and take off.

What exactly is the secret formula? Is it the characters, the story, the scenery or a combination of them all?

The things that make Downton Abbey successful are also present in simplified form in children’s literature.

For example: in last night’s episode the younger daughter, who has lost her purpose as a wounded soldiers’ nurse, arrived at a life altering decision to get married. This is a big deal in and of itself, but there is added drama and story layering in this specific situation because she’s the lord’s daughter and her intended is the chauffeur. OMG! Not the help! The expected drama of her older relations becoming angry and forbidding the marriage plays itself out during the episode, but with a twist at the end.

Of course, in an adult drama such as this there are many such threads going on at the same time. In a picture book, there is usually only one main theme. But the drama that is present in the above situation can make for a compelling narrative in a children’s book as well.

What are some of your favorite kids’ books? Can you pick out the drama initiation, the build up of the emotions and the climax when the story resolves? Do books without this story development work?

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