Something I found interesting after doing some digging was looking at the repeditive use of simple fundamentals in a storyline. All good children’s books work basic elements into the story. The most obvious of these being a beginning, a middle and an end to a tale.
Other less obvious elements would include Characterisation. The author may choose an animal to be the main character. This is known as anthromorphism or personification of an animal or thing. The Setting of the story is also a basic yet very important element so as to create a time and a place for the story to unfold. They have to create an interest in the reader otherwise the child will not relate to the story.
Similarly important in good children’s books are the themes. If you remember any of your own childhood favourites you’ll be familiar with the recurring theme of superpowers and adventures in such stories. “Where the Wild things Are” by Maurice Sendak and “The Gruffalo’s Child” by Julia Donaldson both focus on adventure as a theme. Or in Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” and more recently Oliver Jeffers charming book “The Incredible Book Eating Boy” both main characters have each have an enviable supernatural ability. The themes are recurring and ever popular with children who never grow weary of its repetition.
Three of my favourite books that I find to be great examples of the use and re-use of these basic fundamentals in popular childrens stories are “Are you my Mother?” by P.D Eastman, “Monkey Puzzle” by Julia Donaldson and “A bit Lost” by Irish author and illustrator Chris Haughton.
The three stories span over a period of 50 years which proves the success these basic fundamentals have as they hold fast in their stance yet work so fluidly in brand new stories.
They still appeal despite evolving changes in social, cultural and political environments. The kids who enjoyed them immensely first have since grown up and the same stories are just as effective with their kids.
In this instance of my chosen books, they are all aimed at young readers aged 2-9 years.
The basic fundamentals used in these three stories cover;
• The theme of Separation - A child becoming separated from its mother.
• The use of Anthromorphic Characterisation -The authors each chose to convey their stories through the use of friendly animals.
• The Setting or environment - Each story takes place in the unknown. To a small creature, a suburb, a jungle or a wood are vast & unknown.
• Relationship -The nurturing relationship between mother & child.
• Tension - The use of tension to drive the story forward.
Having highlighted these I’ll briefly introduce each book before beginning a comparison of these fundamentals.
Firstly we look at P.D Eastmans “Are you my mother?” Born in Amherst, Massachusets, he grew up to become a a children’s author and illustrator and was published by Random House Books for Young Readers in 1960. The story begins with an egg left alone by its mother thinking it will be safe for a short while. In this time the egg hatches and the chick immediately embarks on a journey stopping to ask a kitten, a hen, a dog and a cow if they are his mother.
40 years later Londoner Julia Donaldson’s “Monkey Puzzle” is published by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2000. Beautifully Illustrated by Axel Scheffler, Donaldson’s story follows a similar adventure whereby a monkey has become lost in a jungle and seeks help from a butterfly who takes the monkey to animals in the jungle who might be his mother.
Last but not least and most recently we have Chris Haughton’s wonderfully designed “A bit Lost”. An adorable and incredibly atmospheric story about a little owl who falls from his nest into a thick and dark wooded area. He seeks help from curious woodland animals in a bid to find his mother again.
The fundamentals used in these stories are essentially the same but this doesn’t take from each book’s creative originality.
To begin a brief comparison, each author has chosen the theme of separation in their story. If you ever got lost in a shopping centre when you were a child you know the intensity of fear that takes hold within seconds of losing sight of your mother.
You quickly realise that this is it: you will never see your family again. You are lost. Forever. Five seconds later, your mother has found you and you are now utterly disturbed and sobbing uncontrollably from your hellish experience.
The theme of separation in children’s books, is one that always catches their attention. In P.D Eastmans “Are You My Mother?”, the little chick not yet able to fly, walks in pursuit of finding his mother by asking each animal or object he encounters the same question. “Are you my mother?” Similarly, Donaldson’s baby monkey character has lost his mum and when a butterfly offers to help him find her the two set off through the jungle meeting different kinds of creatures living there. Haughton’s character is a baby owl who is asleep in his nest with his mother. In real life, baby owls apparently have a tendency to fall out of the nest and in this case there is no exception. Owl falls down into the forest and is approached by curious woodland animals who enthusiastically offer to find his mum again.
The fact that all three authors chose animals for their characters is interesting yet not surprising. It is a popular choice in young readers literature. The three main characters in each story are incredibly loveable and illustrated in beautiful and vivid colours that would draw any child in.
One could argue that each author chose animals because the theme of their story is one that could be percieved as potentially distressing for the child to imagine happening to them. And a child can distance itself from the character if they do not wholly relate to an animal. It could just as easily be for the reason that for kids, the notion that animals can talk and think just like us and have a mummy who loves them just like ours is beyond enthralling! Most children naturally love animals and so the use of them as characters draws the child reader into the story.
The environment each character is in differs but ultimately they are lost in a place they are not entirely familiar with. Be it a jungle or a city or the local shop you got lost in as a tot, they are all looming and unknown. Each character has found themselves in a similar situation: they are lost.
I want to combine the last two fundamentals I listed being Relationship and Tension as they complement eachother in the success of the stories. One being the relationship in each story is primarily between a child and its mother. The other being the tension or atmosphere that drives the reader on in the story.
to be continued (one last installment!)