One Writer’s Journey

August 15, 2017

Anthropomorphic Animals: Creating Picture Book Characters that Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am

Using anthropomorphic characters in picture books can be tough.  Sometimes the problem is that we try to write to “type.” The giraffe that is too tall and wants to be tiny.  The prickly porcupine.  The smelly skunk.  The shy turtle.

Or we work too hard to go in the opposite direction.  The shy tiger.  The abrasive turtle.

The problem with stories like these is that our characters too easily become short cuts around creativity and hard work.  When an editor pops open our manuscript she thinks, “Not another one.”  Sure, your manuscript is new but she’s seen this sort of thing before.

The key to creating this types of characters is to make them fresh.  That’s what Amy Krouse Rosenthal did when she created Little Oink.  In many ways, Little Oink is an everyday, regular kid.  He likes doing things with his friends.  School is great.  And he adores his parents.

So what’s the story problem?  His loving parents are real pigs.  Little Oink is a neat freak.

What a minute!  Isn’t this just someone working too hard to go in the opposite direction?  That might be the case if the story was didactic and humorless but it isn’t.  Rosenthal clearly has a great sense of humor and it shows through in her writing that is both punny but also fun to read out loud.

“He dug playing with his pig pals.” Pig pals makes for fun reading to a group.  The humor?  The illustration shows them digging for truffles – a totally piggy thing to do but funny when paired with the text.

She also uses ironic reversals.  Instead of pushing him to clean his room, Mom and Dad tell him that he can’t have fun until his room is a “total pigsty.”  That’s a parent phrase (total pigsty) but used in a fun, ironic way.

This book works because it isn’t a lesson about neatness.  It is a book about being yourself but also loving and respecting those around you.  This is what makes the whole thing creative.

Or part of what makes it creative. Rosenthal has also done a great job making it something parents will enjoy reading aloud and kids will love hearing.  Little Oink is a great example of an animal character that works and works well.

Warning: Rosenthal is a professional.  Study up before you try this in your home office.

For another post on using animal characters, see Creating Distance Between Your Reader and Your Character.

–SueBE

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