Plot 1: Try and Fail
I see this plot in most stories because I believe it is the best for picture books. The Main Character has a problem that needs solving. They try to solve the problem and fail. The main character then goes through a series of try and fails, until all hope is lost. They are about to give up, when they finally understand what needs to be done and they solve their problem—hooray!
Examples: Katy Duck Makes a Friend, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, and Itsy Bitsy Spider, by Kate Toms.
Plot 2: A Series of Events
This is a plot that has the action of the story move in a series of events. First this happens, then this, then this, oh, then this happened, finally this happened and it leads us all the way back to this. This can be very fun when done right.
Examples: If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, all by Laura Joffe Numeroff.
Plot 3: The Discovery
In this plot the main character is confused or misunderstood about something, someone, or themselves. They make a journey of discovery and learn that what they thought was wrong or what they misunderstood wasn’t bad at all, and it changes their perception.
Examples: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, and Just Going to the Dentist, by Mercer Mayer.
Plot 4: The Fairy Godmother
Everyone should know what this one is from Cinderella. The main character wants something but they somehow can’t achieve it on their own. Suddenly someone appears and solves their problem for them. They learn that their problem was solved because of their good nature—kind of like a reward for good behavior.
Example: A Wild Western Cinderella, by Cindy Ellen, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig.
Plot 5: The Moral Lesson
This plot I teetered on whether or not to add it, but I do see it as I read children’s books. This is a story that is set only to teach a moral story to the child. I don’t find it particularly my favorite, but I feel it is still used. Normally the main character is being told not to do something, they do it anyway, and then they pay the consequence of that action. Mostly I’ve seen this is religious type books, but also in traditional.
Examples: Purple, Green and Yellow, by Robert N. Munsch and The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room, by Stan & Jan Berenstain.
All of these books are excellent examples and very fun to read to kids. I recommend reading them and trying out their form of plot. Those are my 5 keys on plots for picture books.