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How a children’s book series inspired a new trend

If you’ve been online in the last week, chances are you’ve seen them: Little multicolored blobs with smiling faces doing some kind of gesture, with the text “Little Miss” or “Little Mr.” prominently featured above them.

But what are these illustrations, and why are they suddenly all over the internet?

The art is from the “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” children’s book series, created in 1971 and 1981 respectively by the British author Roger Hargreaves. Decades later, Hargreaves’ characters are being widely posted by people online as memes.

In meme form, the art has become pretty personal — with many online using the characters as a way to confess or share details about themselves that could be considered too private for the internet. Like, “Little Miss Repressed Childhood Trauma,” “Mr. Untoned Bleached Hair” and “Little Miss Bipolar Disorder,” to name a few.

The meme originated on Tumblr in 2021, according to the online database Know Your Meme. It depicts a character from the “Mr. Men” or “Little Miss” series with an intimate detail to describe them, including medical conditions, insecurities and personal facts.

It wasn’t until April this year that the memes went viral on Instagram. Videos using the memes began racking up millions of views on TikTok this month, prompting even more people (and brands) to jump on the trend across various social media platforms.

@juulpuppy, the Instagram creator who is credited for the meme’s virality, said she is always looking for things out of which she can make memes.

“I’ve done memes for ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,’ ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,’ and all these different children’s books,” juulpuppy, who wanted to be referred to by her username out of concern for her privacy, told NBC News. “So, I was trying to think of a meme that was sort of light-hearted and fun.”

The books were inspired by the illustrator’s son

The “Mr. Men” book series was inspired by Hargreaves’ eldest son, Adam, who at age 8 had asked his father what a tickle looked like, according to the book’s website.

Hargreaves was initially amused by the question but was inspired to write a children’s book about a character named Mr. Tickle, which went on to sell a million copies in three years, the website said.

A number of books in the series using other characters were turned into a television show, and comics were published in newspapers like The Mirror and The Daily Mail. The series also had their own songs.

The first “Little Miss” books, which included “Little Miss Bossy,” “Little Miss Naughty” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” were published in 1981.

I like being able to see people having so much fun with such a beloved series having such a strong resurgence,

-Meme creator, instagram user @juulpuppy

Adam Hargreaves took over the company after his father’s death in 1988. New characters were created for the series, which turned 50 last year.

Adam Hargreaves did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the popular illustrations’ recent viral fame.

Meme creator juulpuppy said she hopes the memes will benefit the series in the long run.

“I like being able to see people having so much fun with such a beloved series having such a strong resurgence,” she said. “I hope some of this comes back to benefit the estate of the original creator and that they can catch on this viral moment.”

Little Miss/Mr. popular online

The original “Little Miss” meme was posted in June 2021 on the Tumblr blog notyourgaybestie, which was later reposted to Twitter by user @dreamgirltat in April 2022.

Three days later, juulpuppy posted 30 original memes in the same format that she divided into three carousel posts. The post, which has since garnered over 45,000 likes, has inspired others to use the same template.

The largest Instagram account dedicated to “Little Miss” memes is called @littlemissnotesapp, which has garnered 1.2 million followers since its first post on July 10. The creator credits juulpuppy for the template.

On TikTok, many users have also increasingly made videos featuring the memes, often using the song “Cash In Cash Out” by Pharrell Williams in the background.

Social media accounts for Raising Cane’s, LinkedIn and Philadelphia 76ers have also jumped on the trend.

Many people have acknowledged how intimate the memes have become, cracking jokes about it online. juulpuppy said she loves seeing people become so passionate about it.

“To be able to build community is something that’s really important to me, so I think that’s the most fun thing,” she said. “All of these people and having fun with it.”

She said she believes the memes are resonating because “a lot of comedy right now is talking about trauma, which I think is like a relatively recent trend.”

“If you look at comedy from a while ago, it really didn’t reference your personal business or your struggles,” she said. “I think it’s like great that the discourse is so open now.”

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