I’m currently revising a picture book and finding it to be a bit tricky because I created animal characters. Of course, in a fiction picture book, animal characters are often just stand-ins for kids.
Why Use an Animal Character in a Fictional Picture Book?
Get Rid of Adults. I wanted to have two characters playing on a beach. Uh-oh. That’s dangerous if it’s just two kids; without adults around, the story would never be accepted. But in this case, the adults/parents would just clog up the story. So, make them animal characters and the story works great. No one worries about a chicken or a dog or a sea gull or something similar running around on a beach.
Express Potentially Difficult Emotions. Books with kids who get mad or frustrated can be tricky. Will the audience still like these characters? Will adults want to read this book to kids? (For picture books, you must always remember the adult gatekeeper!) But write about a bear in the winter who is awakened from hibernation — grouchy is understandable. The trick, of course, is to find the right animal who can express the emotions you want.
Difficulties of Using an Animal Character in a Fictional Picture Book
You walk a fine line between kid and animal characteristics. When we read a book with an animal character, we understand that the animals are stand-ins for kids. Or do we? We still want the animal to act, well, true to its nature. Skunks stink; horses run fast; sharks bite.
In my case, someone called me on the activities the characters are doing and said it wasn’t true to the animal in question. Yes, I answered, but it’s just a stand in for a kid. Um, sorry. Choose a different animal or make the actions appropriate for this animal.
ARGH! The critiquer is right. (How dare they? Well, it’s been longer than my normal three days to pout, so I have to get busy and work on this.) I’ll be working on those revisions today and tomorrow.