Picture Books: Animals vs Real Kids
So… PiBoIdMo has started, and I’ve recorded my first idea. (Insert art note re crowds of people cheering, confetti being thrown, maybe a few sparkly fireworks.) I went with my plan for this year and found a quiet, cat-accompanied place to sit and think, then pushed my mind out of the immediate surroundings and into memory and imagination. (Art note of more cheering.) And I pushed myself to think of the actual problem, a set of threes, multiple possibilities for turning points, and some layers to the ending. (Art note of people shaking their heads at hero’s hope this could work for all 30 days.)
Anyway, all that thoughtfulness led me to a bigger thought, which I want to share and about which I’m hoping you’ll chime in with some comments.
The story idea I got today came with an image of the hero as an animal. A non-human animal. A particular non-human animal with a particular problem. A problem that many real, human children experience. I could write this story with the animal or I could write it with a human child. Either will work. My gut tells me that I will write it with the choice that brings the story to me, that helps me see it best, that helps me get it on the page. So I’m not really looking for writing advice or encouragement here.
What I’m looking for are your thoughts on how this choice (not just my choice, but this choice every time it’s made by any author, illustrator, or publisher) impacts the child reader (or listener) of a book.
I recently attended KidLitCon, at which one of the big themes was the need for more diverse books, with which I totally agree. And one of the conversations was about how diversity isn’t just about racial or ethnic differences, but how it’s about everything–sexual preference, socio-economic differences, physical and mental disabilities or challenges. Everything. And one of the biggest layers in the push for these diverse books is the critical need for children in all these worlds to see themselves in stories. Again, a need I totally believe in.
More than one person said that seeing an animal in a story is not seeing oneself.
I don’t know. I totally see the point–the idea that you’re distancing the problem from the actual child, maybe padding it in a bad way with fantasy. That you’re denying the reality of the scenario in the real world and that–the bottom line–you’re not recognizing the child.
But…I’m trying to see from a child’s eyes and mind. Children have powerful imaginations. Children extrapolate. Children see the universal in the specific. Right? So if a child sees an animal with a problem, challenge, or just a situation that she or he has experienced, does the child automatically think, “Not me,” or does the child possibly think, “Hey, me, too!”?
What do you think? Animals or real kids? Sometimes one, sometimes the other? When and why? Thanks for joining the conversation.