Picking Great Children's Book Titles

by Kristin
(Saint Louis, MO)

The perfect title is the one that makes you want the book!

The perfect title is the one that makes you want the book!

What makes a good title?

Hello! My name is Kristin.

I am new to writing books, but it is something that I have been interested in for years. I never gave much thought to what types of books, what titles I would give them, or how to write a story that my audience would love to read.

I want to write a book like the ones my kids bring home from school. I have so many ideas, but I am blocked on titles. How do you give a story a great title?

Kristin, that's a great question. Let's explore it.

(Though the best answer for you right now might be, "Wait until you've finished the story to title it.")

I picked some classic picture books (see above) and thought we might learn something from examining each of their titles.

Let's start by agreeing on one thing: a great title is one that makes someone want to read - or buy, or remember, or share - your story.

One direction you can take for a terrific title is one that captures what's most unique about your story. Take Green Eggs and Ham. It's basically a story about one guy nagging another from beginning to end. Dr. Seuss could just as easily have named it, "That Really Annoying Guy: Sam I Am."

But would you, a potential book buyer, have said to yourself, "I really want a book that'll teach my child to be more persistent when she's begging for sweets at the grocery store"? Probably not. That's why Green Eggs and Ham is such a terrific title. It makes you curious: "How is the author going to weave spoiled eggs and pork into a story?" you wonder. It also promises absurdity - and certainly absurdity is something many people enjoy.

Seuss's The Cat in the Hat promises a unique, unexpected character. Not a cat in a hat, not a person in a hat, but the cat in the hat. The title makes you want to meet this character and find out what he's all about.

Another method authors use for coming up with memorable titles is to play with a phrase (or title) we already find familiar. Now, since little children don't have much life experience, that can be hard to do with a picture book. But say you'd written a book about an animal that ate something that wasn't food. You might call it...

The Hat in the Cat

Let's spend a few moments thinking about very small children. They're charmed by little animals, and they're very in touch with very basic needs. Maybe that's why a title like The Very Hungry Caterpillar has captivated toddlers for generations.

They also struggle with bedtime. Who wouldn't? Who would like being told, "Uh, we're gonna keep having fun, but you have to render yourself unconscious now"? That may be why children and parents have been drawn to Goodnight Moon for nearly 70 years. The title sounds like a child's voice, a child who's okay with going to bed. That's a title that promises hope to parents and children alike.

Speaking of children's voices, what a great title Are You My Mother? is! A big part of fiction's magic is its ability to put us in another character's shoes. This title tells us there's going to be a character who doesn't know who his/her mother is. And that the character is trying to find his/her mother. How exciting is that!

And excitement is certainly what a title like Where the Wild Things Are promises.

Those are of course just a tiny sample of good titles and what makes them work. Does anyone want to share their thoughts on any others?

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Remember: for every great title...
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

...there were a gazillion bad ones that could have been chosen. And probably a few other great ones too.

Here's a method I use: come up with twenty titles, then ask people you know which one would make them most likely to want to open the book.

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