Just how fictitious is too fictitious? That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself as I research a new picture book. It isn’t fantasy in the unicorns and elves sense. There is no magic. But there are animals doing things that animals simply do not do.
Without giving it all away, I have animal and human co-workers, specifically human and penguin co-workers. They are employed on a joint project in the Antarctic.
Obviously not realistic but how fanciful do I want to get? I want my penguins to act like penguins which is going to require reading up on penguin behavior and watching scads of videos. Oh, the horror.
But not every penguin behaves like every other penguin. So what kinds of penguins do I choose?
Obviously, I have to pick an Antarctic penguin which rules out Galapagos penguins. But it still meant that I had to chose between King, Emperor, Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni and Rockhopper.
There were several criteria that I could use to choose. I could pick a penguin with specific characteristics. Some penguins nurture both chicks vs simply the one that hatches first. Others are more social. Some are noisier than others. They vary in what they eat, where they live and how long they mate. Yeah, that last one never really featured in the decision process. This is, after all, a picture book and not that kind of picture book. Enemies are pretty consistent — adult penguins have to watch out for leopard seals and chicks are preyed on by skua.
I finally decided to select the penguin that researchers would be most likely to encounter. This meant comparing maps of penguin nesting locations with maps of human activity and habitation. There really wasn’t as much overlap as you might think.
Penguin type – check. Now I’m ready to start watching those penguin videos and working to weave penguin fact into my highly fictitious penguin story. Fact definitely blends with fiction in unique ways when you are writing a picture book.