Personal narrative picture books are fantastic for sweeping young readers into their tales, and encouraging them to empathize with characters, settings, and circumstances. Some readers may prefer to read only personal narrative books because they provide such an intimate, friendly experience.
Personal Narrative Picture Books
Books written with a personal narrative have a first-person point of view, meaning that they are told by a character who uses the word "I." Second-person narratives address the reader directly with the term "you," and third-person narration--the most common variety--is often omniscient and describes characters with their names, as if in a newspaper article. The highly personal nature of an "I" narrative is often successful in middle-grade and young-adult novels, since so many potential readers of that age are struggling to establish personality and identify with characters. It's a slightly riskier strategy for a picture book, but when it's done well, readers will delight in the resulting stories.
Pros and Cons
There are plenty of advantages to sharing a personal narrative picture book with a child, but there are also a few drawbacks to that particular form and style. The best parts include:
- Complete familiarity with the narrator
- Easy, conversational tone
- Narrator seems like a real person
- Helps kids explore their own feelings and perspectives
And the potential downsides include:
- Unreliable narrator
- Limited perspective
- Risk that readers won't empathize with the main character
- Books may be limited in subject matter or scope (for example, it's unlikely to find a personal narrative book about a nonfiction event)
Using the Books
If you have a reluctant reader on your hands, picture books that are narrated in the first person can prove to be a valuable tool for inspiring the child's interest.
- Choose a personal narrative book together at the library or the bookstore, and read a little bit of it as a team every night. If your child is old enough to read independently, have him or her read some sections out loud, and you can read the others. Before or after you read each nightly section, ask a few casual questions about the plot of the book and the main character. Try to find out what your child thinks the character may be thinking or feeling and why the character acts in certain ways.
- Encourage aspiring writers to author their own personal narratives. The exercise can be as simple as recording a few sentences about events and feelings in a daily journal or as complex as making up an entirely new story and carrying it through to the book binding stage.
- Older kids who still read more complex picture books may enjoy learning more about first-person narration and how it's different from second-person and third-person points of view. Ask the child which type of viewpoint he or she prefers and why.
Not sure where to start or how to seek out first-person picture books? Librarians, bookstore employees, and teachers may know of a long list of titles that could appeal to your child. When in doubt, pick up one of the following books, which are well loved by kids everywhere.
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst - Every child can empathize with having an awful day, and Alexander tells the story of what happened to him better than anyone else possibly could.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss - If your kid loves wordplay, rhyme, or silly books, this volume is certainly worth a read. The Cat in the Hat is another famous Seuss title with first-person narration.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - A holiday favorite with kids and parents alike, The Polar Express tells the magnificent tale of one child's journey to the North Pole.
- Although they don't weave a story in the same way that a traditional narrative does, the I Spy books are also written in first person and are particularly well suited for visual learners.