Friday, January 6, 2012
Bear+Hat+Crime=Murder and Inspiration!
In this simple story a bear is on the quest to find his lost red and pointy hat. After questioning several other animals he finds the perp and takes the law into his own hands. Brilliant...and I have to say, a breath of fresh air. Why? Because I learned to no longer edit those crazy stories in my head that others might say would be "controversial".
Let me explain....
Sometimes as Picture Book writers I think we tend to "play it safe." We don't want to write about anything too scary or controversial....so instead we edit our stories to avoid such criticism. Let me give a few examples to better illustrate my point.
1) I was once a part of a conversation among writers regarding a portion of a story I had written that included what could be described as Bullying. It was told to me that in this day and age bullying is a very serious issue and it is important that parents and other adults intervene. So...it was not considered a good move for me to write a story in which the protagonist was bullied and decided to deal with the issue on his own, without adult help. Worst yet, my story took a comical look at bullying which I was told would be very frowned upon. But how do you explain Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series? Does his behavior and the way that Harry, Ron and Hermoine deal with it on their own somehow condone bullying? This is an issue I have really struggled with...
2) A colleague of mine once wrote a Picture Book in which the protagonist ran away from home and into the woods because she was not happy with her step-mom. In the woods she meets an enchanted frog and the story escalates from there. It was brought up that her book seemed to make running away enticing and therefore would not be a good sell. But how many fairy tales involve children wandering off on their own? This is a real conundrum.
3) Lastly, and perhaps worst of all is when someone says they think a word or phrase is not "kid language" and needs to be changed! Really? So if I use a big word my book will no longer appeal to children? Hmmmm....
Anyway, my point here being that storytelling...GOOD storytelling...will prevail no matter what! Jon Klassen's book is delightful despite including thievery and eventual murder. Its fun, believe it or not! But upon reading it, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of feedback he got from other writers when he would share his manuscript! Is it too dark? Should it be more benign? Should the bear become friends with the rabbit at the end and share the hat? All I can say is that I am happy the story is what it is.
Congrats, Jon Klassen for showing me that the sky's the limit! Despite naysayers, the spirit of the Grim Brothers lives on!
Tell your tale! Believe in your writing....someone has to, right?