Wednesday, June 5, 2013

No Talking Animals?

It was one of the first things I learned when I started studying how to get started in the children's book industry—No talking animals. No problem there. I have files and files of ideas, and none of them involve talking animals.

I still see "No talking animals please" in the wish-lists and guidelines of agents and editors. But recently I was talking with a very enthusiastic fourth grade teacher who was planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month. He wanted to write a middle grade novel, so he brainstormed ideas and decided to let the kids pick.

He said, "They picked the talking animal idea because, you know, kids love talking animal books. You know, the Warrior series . . ."

For a moment I wondered if I should warn him, but then I thought of my own bookshelves, the books beloved by my children, and by me. The Redwall series, The Mistmantle Chronicles, Babe the Gallant Pig, The Autobiography of a Self-Educated Hamster, The Tale of Despereaux, The Ralph S. Mouse books, Charlotte's Web.

So why no talking animal books? Are they harder to do well? Are they more likely to be written by people who haven't studied the business and honed their craft? Is this one of those areas where grown-up tastes just don't match up with kids' preferences?

I didn't tell that teacher he might have trouble finding a home for a talking animal story. I'll bet he grows a lot as a writer trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, and who knows—he just might churn out some irresistible furry heroes and fang-bearing villains. Whatever happens to his book, I'll bet his class loves it.


  1. I wonder if the 'no talking animals' edict was in response to some past glut of talking animal submissions. I've seen some say, "No vampires/zombies/werewolves, please".

  2. I've heard the 'no talking animals' all the nineteen years I've been writing for publication, and yet, I've never yet figured out WHY there should be 'no talking animals'. When you look at a list of 'successful' published works that revolve around the POV of an animal, it's surprising (this is just one that popped up, and there are some overlaps) yet the edict of 'no talking animals' persists.

    Plague dogs and Shardis by Richard Adams
    Watership Down by Richard Adams
    The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
    The good dog by Avi
    Poppy and Rye by Avi
    The ghost of Opalina: or the cat’s nine lives by Peggy Bacon
    Raptor Red by Robert Bakker (adult)
    The last unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
    Ratha’s creature (and series) by Clare Bell
    War Dog by Martin Booth
    The incredible journey by Sheila Burnford
    The Sight (and others) by David Clement-Davies
    The Cold Moons by Aeron Clements
    The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    Just a dog by Helen Griffiths
    Sheep by Valerie Hobbs
    Seeker by Erin Hunter
    Warriors series by Erin Hunter
    Redwall series by Brian Jacques
    The Deptford Histories and The Hagwood trilogy by Robin Jarvis
    Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
    Cracker! The best dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata
    Straydog by Kathe Koja
    Strays by Ron Koertge
    Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky
    Whinny of the wild horses by Amy Laundrie
    Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin
    Stay: Keeper’s story by Lois Lowry
    A dog’s life by Ann M. Martin
    Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister
    War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
    We 3 by Grant Morrison
    Tremeraire series by Naomi Novik (dragons)
    Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel
    Animal Farm by Geoge Orwell
    Eragon series by Christopher Paolini
    Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver
    Firebringer trilogy by Meridith Ann Pierce
    I am the great horse by Katherine Roberts
    Varjak Paw and The outlaw Varjak Paw by S. F. Said
    Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
    The Captain’s dog by Roland Smith
    The art of racing in the rain by Garth Stein (adult)
    Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
    Tailchaser’s song by Tad Williams

    ON FOUR LEGS list (some overlap):
    Adams, Richard Watership Down
    Aesop Aesop’s Fables
    Applegate, K. A. Animorphs (series)
    Atwater, Richard Mr. Popper’s Penguins
    Avi Poppy (series)
    Burnford, Sheila The Incredible Journey
    Carman, Patrick The Dark Hills Divide
    Cleary, Beverly The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    Collins, Suzanne Gregor the Overlander
    Farley, Walter The Black Stallion
    George, Jean Craighead Julie of the Wolves
    Howe, James Bunnicula (series)
    Hunter, Erin Warriors (series)
    Jacques, Brian Redwall (series)
    Kipling, Rudyard The Jungle Book
    Laskey, Katherine Guardians of Ga’Hoole (series)
    Lewis, C. S. Chronicles of Narnia (series)
    Lofting, Hugh Doctor Doolittle (series)
    London, Jack The Call of the Wild
    Mcallister, M. I. The Mistmantle Chronicles (series)
    O’Brien, Robert Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    Orwell, George Animal Farm
    Said, S. F. Varjak Paw
    Salten, Felix Bambi
    Selden, George The Cricket in Times Square
    Sewell, Anna Black Beauty
    White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web

    And I am quite sure there are dozens more out there, many of which are good.

  3. I think you're right JeffO. I love talking animals! I'd be lost without them in my favorite classics such as those by Beatrix Potter. I think this rule is mainly for novel length fiction where agents and editors must brace themselves for page after page of yapping critters. Picture books would surly be different and I think editors are used to reading many submissions with anthropomorphic creatures of all kinds.

  4. Angie, you're right. I was talking about middle grade novels. I haven't noticed a trend of objecting to talking animals in picture books, but then I haven't been trying to submit picture books . . .

    Wow, Artemis, what a list! I think I just found some new books to add to the TBR pile.

  5. Maybe it's hard to write talking animal characters that also portray the animal characteristics? This is a good question and one I've wondered about.

  6. I loved talking animals as a kid and I still love them as an adult. I think there will always be a market for them, regardless of what the big publishers choose to put out.

  7. Redwall is such a great series! And my students do enjoy talking animal books too - this just seem to go in cycles and it's not as popular now for some strange reason :)


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