Breaking the Rules

I’ve found a new superhero to adore. His name?

SuperwormSuperworm. His kooky rhyming story is written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
Most character-driven picture book stories follow a traditional format:
     a) Main character has a problem (or goal)
     b) Things happen, repeatedly, to keep him from solving the problem (or reaching his goal)
     c) After much struggle, he finally overcomes the obstacles,
     d) solves the problem (or reaches his goal), and
     e) learns or grows because of his struggle.
That’s okey-dokey, well and good. But I like finding stories that break the mold, too, and still work. This is one of those.
Superworm is a terrific neighbor. He’s always there for his friends, ready to help others at the drop of a hat. Your baby toad hops into the street?
SW 3
Never fear, Superworm’s here! He also cheers up bored bees and saves a beetle who has fallen down a well. His friends appreciate him, too. They even make up a little chant to honor him:
       “Superworm is super-long.
       “Superworm is super-strong.
       “Watch him wiggle! See him squirm!
       “Hip, hip, hooray for SUPERWORM!”
The guy’s got it made. So what goes wrong? Trouble shows up in the form of the Wizard Lizard.
SW 4
When he hears the chant, he’s intrigued. He sends his crow out to snatch up poor, unsuspecting Superworm. The wizard puts a spell on Superworm, who must do the wizard’s bidding – namely, tunnel in the dirt to find him treasure. And if he fails? Crow food! Bwa-ha-ha.
So one of the BIG rules in writing for children is that the main character must solve his own problem, right? Except in this story, Superworm doesn’t. He’s under a spell, after all. Instead, his friends come to his rescue.
SW 6
Why does that work? Only because Donaldson has already SHOWN readers what a selfless sweetie pie Superworm is. He’s been such a great friend to everybody else, OF COURSE those friends going to band together to save him when they learn of his plight. It isn’t easy, but those wimpy looking snails, caterpillars, spiders, bees, and beetles are a formidible force when they work together. Watch out, lizard.
SW 7
Superworm, free at last, goes right back to his helpful ways. And those, you just have to see. Here are a few:
SW 8
It’s always fun to break a rule now and then. But only if you know what you’re doing.  🙂 And Julia Donaldson definitely does.
Check it out!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of many picture books. Her latest is How to Grow a Dinosaur. Other recent titles are Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, and I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! Learn more at


  1. This looks wonderful – and like a great mentor text. Just requested it from my library (and, just FYI, voted for your book in Crystal Kite the other day :D).

  2. I’ve read a couple books that break the mold in this way. Bear Snores On is one. I like it. Why not change things up? The story sounds great. Can’t wait to read it.

  3. That does sound like a fun, adorable book. Thanks for sharing the structure.

  4. The same duo behind GRUFFALO — another very fun rhymer. I’ll have to check it out!

  5. I do love a good rule-breaker! I actually have a story idea that has a similar structure. I should check this book out!

  6. Didn’t know she had this one out. I’ll look for it. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Love this book! Love the rule breaking! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  8. Thanks for the recommendation, Jill! I’ve put the book on “hold” at the library. It sounds like a great mentor book, for sure.

  9. This sounds like a winner. Thanks for telling me about it. I just put it on hold at my library. Can’t wait to read it.

  10. I love the tie in of how good he was to his friends at the beginning and how that turned out to be his salvation. Shows being good to others really pays off. Such a sweet book!

  11. Love the jobs that Superworm does at the end! Thanks, Jill!

  12. This does indeed look delightful! Will read this at the CCBC for sure!

  13. Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler are a superhero picture book duo! I love THE GRUFFALO, ROOM ON THE BROOM, THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE, and THE HIGHWAY RAT. Don’t know how I missed SUPERWORM, but I’m off to find a copy!

  14. Love! Love! Love! Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler!!! I can’t wait to read about Superworm! That chant is all kinds of fun! I don’t know if I can sleep because it keeps running through my mind 🙂

  15. This is a fantastic example and explanation for breaking the rules. Thank yo so much! I will use your wisdom in my picture book classes and plan to share the post.

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