1000 Picture Books – Part 2: The Characters

Go take a peek at part 1 then come back.

If you didn’t take a peek, basically, I read 1000 picture books in 2016, and took lots of notes.

Today I’ll take a look at the characters in the books. What types of characters are making their ways into picture books the most? Let’s see who (and what) made it into the books I read. If you see ‘MC’, is is a shortened version of ‘Main Character.’ Remember that all of the numbers you see are out of 1000.

Human, Animal, Inanimate, or Creature:

499 – Human

312 – Animal

45 – Inanimate

55 – Creature

88 – None, either not recorded, or a concept book


One Main Character, or Multiple Main Characters:

883 – One MC

41 – Two MCs share the spotlight.

9 – Three MCs

3 – Four MCs

5 – Five MCs

1 – Ten MCs

58 – Many MCs

I was surprised at how many books focused on more than one character.


Male or Female:

482 – Male

302 – Female

66 – At least one of each

204 – Unsure – sometimes with a cat, or a dragon, or a crayon, you just can’t tell without asking a few inappropriate questions.

Let’s get that male to female ratio a bit more even.



566  – Child (55 were babies or preschool)

172 – Adult (8 were elderly)

4 – At least one of each

257 – Unsure – I was raised to never ask a talking doughnut its age.

I was surprised by the large percentage of adult MCs.


Ethnicity: From the 499 MCs that were human.

340 – White

60 – Black

30 – Asian

23 – Hispanic

3 – American Indian

1 – Middle Eastern

30 – A mix of MCs

12 – Could not be determined

I think it is pretty clear who is and who isn’t represented.


Most popular humans:

13 – Artists (visual or performing)

9 – Royalty

6 – Writers

5 – Activists


Most popular animals:

43 – Birds

9 were chickens, 7 were penguins, 5 were owls

33 – Bears

29 – Dogs

23 – Cats

16 – Mice

15 – Rabbits (or hares, or bunnies)

11 – Elephants

11 – Monkeys or gorillas

8 – Pigs

4 to 6 –  Insects, Frogs, Foxes, Pandas, Alligators/Crocodiles


Most popular inanimate objects:

9 – Foods

6 – Vehicles

6 – Trees

4 – Books

4 – Shapes

4 – Toys


Most popular creatures:

7 – Monsters

5 – Dragons

5 – Dinosaurs

4 – Aliens

4 – Witches


Most popular secondary characters:

28 – Birds (4 were Chickens)

27 – Mothers

24 – Dogs

21 – Fathers

15 – Bears, Cats

13 – Grandmothers

11 – Brothers, Both parents, Sisters

10 – Grandfathers

8 – Dragons, Mice, Dinosaurs

7 – Wales, Robots

6 – Royalty, Wolves

5 – Monsters, Turtles

4 – Lions, Dark/Night,

So, that’s the breakdown of who is populating the pages of current picture books. There’s a huge mix (there were hundreds of characters I didn’t have room to mention), but there are definitely some types that show up more often than others.

For those of you who are writers and illustrator, we can use this to see where there are opportunities to make some positive changes.

Any questions? Please ask. If there is any information you think could help with a story you’re creating, I’m happy to help.

Now move on to part three – Genre.

24 thoughts on “1000 Picture Books – Part 2: The Characters

  1. WOW…this is fabulous, David…now I really need to hop over and read the first part of your survey. What a lot of work you did…and a lot of reading…and I really appreciate that you shared this all with us!

  2. What an interesting survey! Thank you for sharing. I wondered if you kept track of the types of stories. Were they all stories with a discernible arc? Were some concept books? Did some rhyme? How about settings? Thanks for any additional info you can give me.

    1. There is definitely more to come within the next few days. I will cover most of what you are asking about. I’m already disappointed with a few things I missed, but this end result of sharing this information was not in my original plan. I just wanted to read a few books.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this info. I, too, am surprised at the number of adult protagonists. And the male to female ratio is surprising as well; I would have guessed it to be more even.

    1. I think people go with the thought that girls will read about boys, but boys won’t read about girls. I would love to see a study to see if this is true.

  4. You’ve captured a view that’s good to know. Fewer princess books perhaps, but how quickly the market seems to fluctuate. I saw Beauty and the Beast is remade film soon.
    Thank you for reporting your numbers.

    1. You’re welcome, Pam. I expected more princess books too. It’s funny how characters travel in waves.

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