Archives for posts with tag: THE FOX AND THE HEN

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

Perimeters of the Picture Book Story

Part Two

Just like the patterns of text explored in earlier posts, Writing to Be Heard, becoming more aware of the perimeters and proportions involved with a picture book story helps us hone our writing.

I recently gathered a canvas bag of picture books at my library, and began to see how they compared with the triangular template. I found more small variations in total number of pages than I expected. However, the proportions or percentages of space and text within the perimeters were basically the same from book to book.

Introduction of characters, setting, and conflict.

 

 

Characters struggle to resolve the conflict. This is, again, the part of the story where the audience becomes fully engaged in the story as the characters take action. It is also the largest portion of most stories.

 

After several attempts the characters finally resolve their conflict. The question stated in the beginning has now been answered. Cue the final music.

 

A final, very brief moment of celebration and/or wink to the audience.

 

 

THE FOX AND HEN

23%  56% 23%  7%

FREDERICK

21%  43% 29%  7%

HORACE AND MORRIS BUT MOSTLY DOLORES

33%  40% 20%  7%

OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA

25%  56% 17%  6%

A TREEFUL OF PIGS

14%  43% 29%  14%

WILL I HAVE A FRIEND?

23%  54% 15%  8%

It can be very beneficial to see how our story-in-progress fits these proportions. If our introductory/green passage takes up more pages and text that the action section of solving the conflict, we would be wise to tighten the beginning. If the action/blue passage of our story is less than 40% we know our manuscript could be improved by expanding that section. And, if the finale’/yellow section of our story involves more than 10% of our text we need to be very sure why it has to be that long. If we can’t explain why, then it’s time to try a shorter draft of that passage.

The primary goals of sharing a story are to connect with the audience and keep them engaged. If we fail to do that, we lose the chance to share our theme and the events involved. The perimeters and proportions of basic storytelling exist because they work. They are not the only game in town, but they are certainly the most established.

Sample Picture Book Stories

THE AMAZING BONE by William Steig. Farrar, 1976.

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

FREDERICK by Leo Lionni. Pantheon, 1967.

HORACE AND MORRIS BUT MOSTLY DOLORES by James Howe. Illus. by Amy Walrod. Athneum, 1999.

JULIUS by Angela Johnson. Illus. by Dav Pilkey. Orchard, 1993.

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

MRS. POTTER’S PIG by Phyllis Root. Illus. by Russell Ayto. Candlewick, 1996.

OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann. Ptunam, 1995.

PIGGIE PIE by Margie Palatini. Illus. by Howard Fine. Clarion, 1995.

A TREEFUL OF PIGS by Arnold Lobel. Illus. by Anita Lobel. Greenwillow, 1979.

A VISITOR FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker. Illus. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick, 2008.

WILL I HAVE A FRIEND? by Miriam Cohen. Illus. by Lillian Hoban. Simon & Schuster, 1967.