Archives for category: Writing Tips

LOOK AGAIN!

Why We Read…and Write

II of III

THE NEW YORKER

Though we humans may be initially resistant, most of us eventually take delight in discovering multiple or conflicting realities. This is the center of everything from jokes to optical illusions. It is why we read. We are eager to experience someone else’s perspective on a situation. To see how they solved it, or at least lived through it.

While there may be great differences in the number of words and pages, novels share this reality with picture books. At the same time adults are pretending they’ve solved the question of who’s what and what’s what, children are still actively taking delight in the exploration. As picture book authors, we have the chance to join and share the fun.

Narrative

What is truth? Ed Young’s retelling of the classic tale THE LOST HORSE is a prime example. How can one be sure what good luck or bad luck really is until one knows the full context and circumstances?   Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Ann, struggle to reach success that soon becomes defeat. That is, until they take a different perspective and triumph under fresh definitions. Roslyn Schwartz’s mole sisters find delight in the midst of what most would view as a terrible day. How? Perspective the acceptance of more than a single reality.

Concept

Context and mercurial definitions are at the heart of vibrant concept books, as well.  In her many picture books, the singular Tana Hoban invited children to look and then look again and again. Edward Carini’s TAKE ANOTHER LOOK invites us into the realities of optical illusions. And, if I may, my own WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY requires children to realize multiple truths.

Take a look.  Then look again. One of the world’s greatest gifts is that there is always something new to see.

Books That Encourage One to “Look Again”

*THE ARCH by Joel Meyerowitz. Little, Brown & Co., 1988.

GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz. Illus. by Ji Sun Lee. Picture Window Books, 2006.

THE LOST HORSE by Ed Young. Harcourt, 1998.

MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton, 1939.

THE MOLE SISTERS AND THE RAINY DAY by Roslyn Schwartz. Annick Press, 1999.

*THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007 (1966).

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Edward Carini. Prentice-Hall, 1970.

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1981.

THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY by George Shannon. Illus. by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow, 2005.

*WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL: VIEWS ON THE WRITER’S VOCATION by William Stafford. University of Michigan Press, 1978.

*Published for adults

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LOOK AGAIN!

Why We Read…and Write

I of III

As human beings we are plagued with the desire to create boundaries. This is this and only this. You are you and not one of us. In this spirit, we might ask what the former curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art could possibly have to do with picture books? Plenty, if we take the time to relax and look again. There is always more to see in what we think we’ve already explored.

I have long been intrigued and inspired by the following quote from THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski.

“If the photographer could not move his subject, he could move his camera. To see the subject clearly—often to see it at all—he had to abandon a normal vantage point, and shot his picture from above, or below, or from too close, or too far away, or from the back side, inverting the order of thing’s importance, or with the nominal subject of his picture half hidden. From his photographs, he learned that the appearance of the world was richer and less simple than his mind would have guessed. He discovered that his pictures could reveal not only the clarity but the obscurity of things, and that these mysterious and evasive images could also, in their own terms, seem ordered and meaningful.”

"The Octopus" Alvin Langdon Coburn. 1912.

Even if one isn’t a photographer, who hasn’t spent time as a child leaning off the edge of the bed marveling at how the world looks upside down. Or, watched a giant tree move when you look first with just the right eye then the left.

A few days ago serendipity brought the discovery of a wonderful early reader / picture book that demonstrates Szarkowski’s quote in just as many words. GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz encapsulates the joys of looking at the world from a slightly different angle or distance. And, as Galen’s camera does that, it also inspires the world of simile and metaphor. In a (supposedly) mere 112 words spread through 24 pages, Kalz introduces her reader to a boundary-free world that is rich with overlapping realities.

GALEN'S CAMERA

Look again.

Books That Encourage One to “Look Again”

*THE ARCH by Joel Meyerowitz. Little, Brown & Co., 1988.

GALEN’S CAMERA by Jill Kalz. Illus. by Ji Sun Lee. Picture Window Books, 2006.

*THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE by John Szarkowski. The Museum of Modern Art, 2007 (1966).

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK by Tana Hoban. Greenwillow, 1981.

THE TURN-AROUND, UPSIDE-DOWN ALPHABET BOOK by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

*WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL: VIEWS ON THE WRITER’S VOCATION by William Stafford. University of Michigan Press, 1978.

*Published for adults

Folk Tales & Picture Books

Writers are interested in folk tales for the same reason that painters are interested in still-life arrangements; because they illustrate essential principles of storytelling.

Northrop Frye * Fables of Identity

As a child in elementary school I was often told to write a story, but I was never told what a story was or what it required beyond capital letters and punctuation. Imagine being told to make a cherry pie, but not being told it needs a bottom and top crust, that more that just cherries are required for the middle, nor the fact it has to be baked.

No matter how experienced or old we may be it is always beneficial to return to the basics of story if we want to write one. And, the best of the basics are to be found in tried and true folktales. Why? Folktales began as live performance. If the teller and story didn’t keep the audience’s attention the audience walked away. The successful storyteller/writer had to be keenly aware of the audience’s desires, energy, and responses. Folk tales are based in oral language, which is also the heart of picture books.

Picture books have a long history of retelling folk tales. However, for our purpose of exploring basic story structure it’s wise to focus non-illustrated collections and the words alone. Action, rhythm and pace are vital. Adjectives are few, but when they appear they, too, are vital. Feel the plot as it moves. Savor the satisfying ring of the conclusion as it responds to the opening paragraph.

Read collections of folk tales suitable for children. Like printed literature, the majority of folk tales are not for children. It is also important to look for editors/retellers who are aware of the oral/aural nature of folktales. The earliest collections of folktales were significant, but were typically rigid word for word translations. The last thirty years has brought an enriched understanding of folk tales as an intimate, oral experience with the audience and the importance of sharing that quality in print.

Most important of all, read folk tales. Then read them again. And when we begin to write, consider whether or not our writing will keep the young listeners engaged and in their seats. If not, it’s time to revise.

Illustration by Y. Rachov

Suggested Folk Tale Collections to Explore

BEAT THE STORY-DRUM, PUM-PUM told by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum, 1987.

PUTTING THE WORLD IN A NUTSHELL: THE ART OF THE FORMULA TALE by Sheila Dailey. Wilson, 1994.

SHAKE-IT-UP TALES: STORIES TO SING, DANCE, DRUM, AND ACT OUT told by Margaret Read MacDonald. August House, 2000.

WHY THE LEOPARD HAS SPOTS: DAN STORIES FROM LIBERIA told by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret Lippert. Fulcrum, 1999.

WORLD FOLKTALES: A SCRIBNER RESOURCE COLLECTION edited by Atelia Clarkson and Gilbert B. Cross. Scribners, 1980

Replacing the Inner Critic

Writers in all genres battle with their “inner critic.” Some writers spend so much time lamenting and discussing their inner critic they have little time left to write. Many writers also talk about getting rid of their inner critic, but fail to explore possible replacements.

For myself, the opposite of the dastardly “inner critic” is the nurturing “inner editor.” In other words, creating my own version of the ideal editor. Two drawings by master artist/cartoonist, Saul Steinberg, offer a visualization of both sides of this writers’ coin.

Inner Critic

* Doubting

* Undermining

* Snide

* No way to please

* Second guessing your every word and move

 

Inner Editor

* Encouraging voice as he/she also challenges

* Doesn’t tell you what to write, but asks vital questions that help YOU discover what to do

* A supportive and curious energy moving toward a richer creation

* Eager to read and examine your efforts

* Honest when it comes time to say “I believe you can do a better job.”

* Literary cheerleader who is not impressed by your ego’s need to be loved

 

If you have the power to generate an “inner critic” you also have the power to generate your ideal “inner editor.”

Sources

THE CATALOGUE by Saul Steinberg. World Publishing, 1962.

THE COMPLETE CARTOONS OF THE NEW YORKER edited by Robert Mankoff. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2004.

William Steig & Talking Animals:

Learning From the Best

THE NEW YORKER

As I tell elementary students, if you want to be a great soccer player you study the best soccer players in addition to practicing a lot. The same is true if our goal is to write the best picture books.  Soccer has Pele, Beckham and Ronaldo. Picture book writers have many models, including William Steig.

Before he began to write and illustrate children’s books William Steig had a long career as a cartoonist with THE NEW YORKER, and several thematic anthologies published. The 1961 cartoon (above) was an unknown preview of his forthcoming books for children. This NEW YORKER cartoon is especially interesting because it juxtaposes the human world with that of talking animals. Steig is best known for his books featuring talking animals. But he also created some engaging books featuring humans.

Steig is perhaps most famous for SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE which won the Caldecott Medal. Like SYLVESTER, THE AMAZING BONE (1976) shares a story that would be impossible to tell with human characters.

THE AMAZING BONE

Pearl, a well-dressed and dreamy pig, is the protagonist. She lives in a parallel world where all animals are upright, dressed and articulate. Once that level of suspended disbelief is established, it is a small step to accept that Pearl has discovered a bone that talks.  Editors would run screaming from a manuscript that had a human child kidnapped and threatened with cannibalism. But once you have talking pigs in frocks, all is possible and safe.

DOCTOR DE SOTO (1982) features talking animals in a parallel world, but a world where the basic instincts of animals remain in place. Dr. De Soto (mouse) and his client (fox) both wear tweed suits. They also know fox’s ultimate and natural objective is to devour the mouse. Some would call that destiny. Steig and Dr. De Soto call it bunk! Dr. De Soto prevails in a classic example of brains over brawn and nurture over nature. Once again, a story with this level of danger and darkness could not successfully be told with human characters.

DOCTOR DE SOTO

When neither magic nor cruelty was involved, Steig was able to appropriately feature human characters in a way that made those stories more engaging. Irene in BRAVE IRENE certainly experiences some lucky turns of fate in her story. But, because the thrust of the story is a girl’s determination and accomplishment it is best cast with humans. Portraying Irene as a pig in a frock would have weakened the tension and emotional path of the story.

BRAVE IRENE

When asked what he thought of talking animals, author/editor James Cross Giblin said, “It depends on what they have to say.” As William Steig demonstrates, it also depends on the specific story we want to share.

Picture Books Discussed

THE AMAZING BONE by William Steig. Farrar, 1976.

ANIMALS: A COLLECTION OF GREAT ANIMAL CARTOONS edited by George Booth et al. Harper, 1979.

BRAVE IRENE by William Steig. Farrar, 1986.

DOCTOR DE SOTO by William Steig. Farrar, 1982.

Waiters During Mardi Gras

Talking Animals in Their Own World

THE NEW YORKER

Though children’s literature is filled with talking animals, few of these characters speak while maintaining their natural state. Even fewer exist within picture books. The primary reason for this is that it limits the human aspects of the story to emotions and logic. No external elements of people are allowed. No clothes. No human housing, jobs, or tools. And usually, no walking upright.

Maintaining the animal’s natural environment also eliminates many of the most familiar plot points in picture books. No stories about school, new siblings, grandparents, toys, etc. Yet, at the same time these limitations may feel confining to the writer, they can also nurture a distillation similar to the fable.

Amy MacDonald’s LITTLE BEAVER AND THE ECHO centers on loneliness, friendship, and naiveté. Little Beaver is clearly a child substitute and also a natural beaver. By taking her characters outside the human world, MacDonald creates a quiet, wooded setting that allows an echo to be heard, but it also evokes her themes.

BABOON by Kate Banks is a multi-layered exploration of one’s environment. At the same time the baby baboon is discovering the physical aspects of the jungle, he is also learning the world is complex with little room for absolutes. Much like LITTLE BEAVER, Banks’ setting clearly outside the human world and its contemporary pace supports the gentle and reflective dialogue between mother and child.

Nearly 50 years old, Leo Lionni’s SWIMMY, is not only a classic, but also a popular classic. Its theme, strength through unity, is found throughout literature, history, and current events. By using fish in their natural environment, Lionni is able to distill and visualize stories ranging from the French Resistance during WWII to the final scenes in the movies NORMA RAE and WITNESS to the current protests in Wisconsin over attempts to cripple unions.

As always, the more specific the writer or actor can be, the more universal the experience becomes for the audience. If we have a picture book story with talking animals we have nothing to lose and much to gain by exploring a draft free of human trappings. Paring down our anthropomorphism to emotions alone might well bring clarity and help our story sing.

THE NEW YORKER

Picture Books Discussed

BABOON by Kate Banks. Illus. by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster Books, 1997.

LITTLE BEAVER AND THE ECHO by Amy MacDonald. Illus. by Sarah Fox-Davies. Putnam, 1990.

SWIMMY by Leo Lionni. Knopf, 1963

Talking Animals in the Human World

and the Humans Who Aren’t Surprised to Hear Them Speak

Randall Borchers

Four of the most powerful words in literature are “once upon a time.” When a story begins with those words anything can happen and all is believed. Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t bat an eye when a wolf begins to talk. Or, vice versa. Fat Cat can converse with soldiers as easily as washing ladies, mice, and kings. Not to mention, swallow them whole then set them free without any harm. Without that classic phrase to suspend disbelief contemporary writers tend to accomplish the same in two ways. Both come down to the strength of the author’s conviction and voice.

Those writing novels for older children often establish this leap of faith in a simple, broad stroke. In THE MOUSE AND THE MOTOCYCLE Beverly Clearly calmly states “Neither the mouse nor the boy was the least bit surprised that each could understand the other. Two creatures who shared a love for motorcycles naturally spoke the same language.” Michael Bond’s explanation for Paddington Bear speaking English is equally succinct. Paddington’s Aunt Lucy back in Peru talk him English so he would be able to immigrate to England and fend for himself. Case closed.

Given the brevity of picture books, authors in this genre are even more economic.  Carpe diem. No need to explain. Simply jump in and believe.

THE STORY OF BABAR

Jan De Brunhoff’s text and illustrations for THE STORY OF BABAR calmly have elephant, wealthy lady, and other city folk conversing as fact. There is no time for doubt because the story keeps moving forward in a confident voice. The famous crocodile and New Yorker, Lyle, also lives naturally among humans. Like Babar, Lyle never speaks specific dialogue in quotation marks, but he converses without everyone. Nor is anyone surprised or concerned to see him in department stores or antique shops.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE

Maxwell Eaton’s series featuring Max and Pinky (including THE MYSTERY) leaps forward in its own way. Max is human. Pinky is a pig who often wears painter’s overhauls like Max. They communicate with each other as well as the more natural, non-dressed animals on the farm (horse, turtle, bird and mouse). Once again, people and animals talk to one another. Case closed. On with the story.

THE MYSTERY

It is important to realize how illustrations can greatly contribute to this leap of faith. Varying degrees of cartoon-style illustrations work best in supporting the leap into animals casually conversing with people. The greater the visual realism the harder it is to step beyond that realism. While we may not be able to control the illustrations, we writers who do not illustrate can still provide solid guidance through our voice and the directness of our descriptions.

Be sure. Be firm. Be nonchalant.  Animals and humans may have conversed once upon a time, but there is no reason they can’t today. We just have to believe it ourselves.

CITY CHICKEN

Referenced Books & Others

A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON by Michael Bond. Houghton, 1958.

CITY CHICKEN by Arthur Dorros. Illus. by Henry Cole. Harper, 2003.

CORNERED ANIMALS by Randall Borchers. Adama Books, 1988.

EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley. Illus. by Janet Stevens. Harcourt, 2002.

FAT CAT: A DANISH FOLKTALE retold by Margaret Read MacDonald. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. August House, 2001.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Weber. Houghton, 1965.

MARTHA THE MOVIE MOUSE by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1966.

THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Clary. Harper, 1965.

THE MYSTERY by Maxwell Eaton III. Knopf, 2008.

NORMAN THE DOORMAN by Don Freeman. Viking, 1959.

THE STORY OF BABAR by Jan De Brunhoff. Random, 1933.

A BEAR CALLED PADDINGTON

Talking Animals in the Human World

Who Do Not Talk to Humans

Gary Larson

A popular sub-genre of talking animals is that of talking animals within the human world. These animals talk with one another and talk with the reader, but the humans in the story have no idea the animals can talk at all. This genre focuses on environments where humans and animals share space: farm, zoo, and, occasionally, the wild. Like the Gary Larson cartoon (above) these animals appear to live an animal’s life, but speak and often behave like people when humans aren’t there to see them.

The farm is the predominant setting for these stories. It creates an immediate bridge between the domestic world of humans and the wild life of animals. Due to the species best known as farm animals (horse, cow, pig, sheep etc) the farm doesn’t even need to be mentioned or shown. In HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox the only sign of human life is the barbed wire fence in a few of Patricia Mullins’ illustrations.

THE FOX AND THE HEN

The farmer and family appear in novels like BABE and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, but have no idea their farm animals speak with one another. Because picture books are typically illustrated on every page the farmer rarely appears. And if he does, it is most often at a distance. Animals may talk, gossip, and have their own human-like lives, but not at the same time they are traditional animals in a farmer’s barn. The animals must maintain their cover whenever he’s able to see them. To have humans actually converse with animals or casually accept behavior like a cow in a kilt dancing on two legs would be a completely different level of fantasy.

PETUNIA

The silly goose in Roger Duvoisin’s PETUNIA has one scene that includes the farmer, but she only speaks when he is out of sight.  Janet Morgan Stoeke’s sweetly naïve Minerva Louise enter the farmer’s house, but the people have no idea she is there.

MINERVA LOUISE

Three well-known picture books demonstrate the delicate balance between talking animals and humans when they do interact. Ferdinand (FERDINAND THE BULL) and his mother may speak, but they do not speak with the humans at the bullfight. The animals in Martin Waddell’s FARMER DUCK interact with the farmer, but when they do they do not speak in human language. They merely moo, baa, oink etc. The animals in Doreen Cronin’s CLICK CLACK MOO communicate with the farmer, but once again it is at a distance. They type messages, but never speak face-to-face in the same language.

As a literary element, talking farm animals have the following to offer writers:

*A domestic setting without humans

*The sense of a secret world right under the noses of adults. What child wouldn’t love that situation?

*A cast of characters that do not threaten one another. For danger, the fox must be introduced.

Just like some poets draft a poem in both free verse and rhyme to see which form best serves the idea, picture book writers have the chance to draft a story with humans, with domestic talking animals, and with animals free of all human contact. What matters most is which form best serves and shares the story.

THE NEW YORKER

Books Referenced Above

BABE, THE GALLANT PIG by Dick King-Smith. 1983.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White. Harper, 1952.

CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

FARMER DUCK by Martin Waddell. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, 1991.

THE FOX AND THE HEN by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010.

HATTIE AND THE FOX by Mem Fox. Illus. by Patricia Mullins. Simon & Schuster, 1987.

MINERVA LOUISE by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Dutton, 1988.

PETUNIA by Roger Duvoisin. Knopf, 1950.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB by George Shannon. Illus. by Deborah Zemke. Handprint, 2005.

THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Illus. by Robert Lawson. Viking, 1938.

THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB

Talking Animals in a Parallel World – III

Child Substitutes

OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel

“The children don’t know, but the truth of the story, whatever gives it validity, is its truth to me, as an adult.”

Arnold Lobel

Some of the most beloved talking animals in picture books are frequently described as “child substitutes.” They exist in a mezzanine world between childhood and adulthood. Characters like Frog and Toad are a double fantasy. First–the animals talk. Second–the characters get to live on their own (be their own boss), yet aren’t burdened with adult duties.

DAYS WITH FROG AND TOAD by Arnold Lobel

If Frog and Toad or George and Martha were children (even talking animal children) readers would immediately want to know why they’ve been abandoned. There’s nobody watching out for them. Why are they living alone? Who makes their dinner? If Frog and Toad were adults (human or animal) a different set of urgent questions would arise. Why don’t they have a job? Why don’t they always wear pants? Or, why is George naked and Martha only has a skirt? Why are they worried about child issues like flying kites and hating pea soup?

GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall

When we read “The Corner” in Lobel’s third collection of stories about Frog and Toad, Frog tells a story involving his parents. It is a jarring moment because it is a significant shift in type of fantasy. How can one be a “child substitute” if he had parents? If he had parents, then shouldn’t he should be a grownup by now.

Other books like Tim Eagan’s ROASTED PEANUTS explore friendship between child substitutes, but this literary element can work just as well when writing about solo characters.  Arnold Lobel created the very solitary OWL AT HOME. Another popular example is SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Melanie Watt.

Using child substitutes allows a sense of distance and suspended disbelief much like talking animals do in traditional fables. And though it may seem contradictory, this distance opens doors to intimacy. Once external reality is suspended, adult writer and child reader can meet on the mezzanine between their daily lives, and savor the emotional core of the story.

Sources Referenced Above

GEORGE AND MARTHA by James Marshall. Houghton, 1972.

FROG AND TOAD ALL YEAR by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1976.

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS by Arnold Lobel, Harper 1970.

“An Interview with Arnold Lobel” with Roni Natov and Geraldine DeLuca. THE LION AND THE UNICORN (1977):72-97.

OWL AT HOME by Arnold Lobel. Harper, 1975.

ROASTED PEANUTS by Tim Eagan. Houghton, 2006.

SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Melanie Watt. Kids Can Press, 2006.

Talking Animals in a Parallel World – II

When Animals Can Share a Story That People Can’t

Picture Book Conundrum 101: At the same time the use of talking animals can drag a story into cavity-inducing sap, the use of talking animals can also prevent certain themes from becoming too saccharine, scary, absurd, or even disgusting. The difference comes down to the writing and understanding the ways talking animals can be used as a literary element rather than merely cuteness.

THE HALLOWEEN PLAY by Felicia Bond is a masterful example of how the use of talking animals can both lighten and open a story. The night of the performance “Roger stood backstage. He had a small but important role.” Seeing Roger as a mouse we wonder what that role is, but because we are already in a relaxed realm of fantasy we stay with the story’s event rather than starting to think too much. If Bond had cast her book with human children readers would likely be sidetracked by pity, concern, and questions attempting to explain why Roger “had a small but important role.”  By using talking animals, Bond helps this particular story sing.

Adults and children would be horrified to find a picture book with a human child alone in the woods on Halloween night. However, Kathryn Galbraith’s use of talking animals in BOO, BUNNY! allows her story about Halloween and fear to be safely accessible. The element of fable allows the focus to remain on the evolving emotions and blooming friendship without the human NEED for context and explanation.

NO, THAT’S WRONG! by Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu celebrates the incrimination and folly of conventional thinking. A pair of lacey red underpants comes blowing with the wind and land on Rabbit’s head. Rabbit declares his new item a hat. If it had been a human character of any age readers would view them as feeble-minded. How can you not know what underpants are? Talking animals, however, are allowed to be naïve and innocent. Children immediately feel both compassionate and superior. In other words, they feel engaged, and once involved in the story, readers are more able to receive the story’s final twist: context and perspective are more important than conventionality. The red item maybe underwear for people, but for Rabbit it’s a lovely hat with ear holes.

Wise and clever jesters knew it was more effective to criticize royal behavior through jest and fable. Realism might offend the king and, at the least, end a jester’s career. Picture book writers may not risk losing their heads, but we do risk losing the audience when we press too hard.

There are many plots, themes and topics where realism could easily be too “in your face.” Lisa Kopelke’s TISSUE, PLEASE is a fine example of using talking animals as a way of not pressing too hard. By featuring frogs, Kopelke is able to explore the realities of snotty-nosed children who need to learn some manners. Children are able to grin and shake their heads over the ill-mannered frogs, and in that frame of mind children are also more able to discover the purpose of the book. Aka: BLOW YOUR NOSE WITH A TISSUE! A book full of realistic snotty-nosed children would probably disgust even the snotty-nosed child.

When we think about using talking animals in a story it is also wise to ask, “What can they do for my story?” Give them a purpose. They my be cute and cuddly, but make sure they make a contribution.

Picture Books Discussed

BOO,BUNNY by Kathryn O. Galbraith. Illus. by Jeff Mack.

Harcourt, 2008.

THE HALLOWEEN PLAY by Felicia Bond. Harper, 1983.

NO! THAT’S WRONG by Zhaohua Ji & Cui Xu. Kane/Miller, 2008.

TISSUE, PLEASE! by Lisa Kopelke. Simon & Schuster, 2004.