A bad guy who isn't a bad guy? Talk about a change.
Imagine Despicable Me as a query letter:
45 year old* Gru, who wants nothing more than to be the best supervillian in the world and thus earn the affection of his mother, devises his greatest plan ever: stealing the moon. But when his competition, Vector, steals the shrink ray he needs, Gru must find a way to get it back, ** SPOLIER** even if it means adopting three little girls who can innocently penetrate Vector's fortress by selling Vector's favorite cookies. In this playful tale, Gru learns that capturing the moon and earning the title of Greatest Supervillain isn't as important as capturing the hearts daughters and the title of Great Dad.
Here, I imagine, would be the response:
After perusing your hysterical and entertaining tale, I regretfully must pass. While I tend to be vague in these letters, let me give you a few pieces of concrete advice:
1) Children don't care about and can't relate to the desires of a 45-year-old villain.
2) While the three girls are the catalysts for Gru's transformation, they are not the primary protagonists of the story, nor do they solve their problems on their own. *Spoiler* Rather, they are rescued by said 45 year old man.
3) I'm not sure it is morally sound to cast your protagonist as such a clear example of an anti-hero in children's literature.
4) It's missing some opportunities that the story has created: (i.e, where are the bogie bots at the end?)
(Truthfully, number 4 is because I wanted to see them boogy-ing again)
Thank your for your submission. Best of luck in finding a home for the story, perhaps in adult literature.
Kids' villains have become increasingly funny (Kim Possible, Meet the Robinsons) and even likeable (Despicable Me, Shrek, Megamind). While I don't think we'll see a true anti-hero (someone who intends to and does something truly awful and is unlikeable) in stories for young kids any time soon, I suspect we'll see a wave of books to follow this growing trend, stories with an even stronger anti-hero than Where the Wild Things Are and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Stories with an anti-hero who intends to cast about evil, (though the consequences will be tame and the anti-hero will be bumbling) instead of someone who is overly excitable or just in a bad mood.
*I'm guessing as to the exact age. Suffice it to say, from the kids' perspective, really old guy.