Author Topic: Your animal characters: boys or girls?  (Read 236 times)

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Offline Franzilla

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Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« on: June 15, 2014, 07:21 PM »
Hi all, I've noticed that I tend to make my animal characters male. And I find it quite hard to imagine them as females. Just wondering if it's just me!


Also, when I think about animal PBs in general, it seems there are way more male characters than female, especially when it comes to dogs and bears. I can only think of one PB with a female dog character (by Lauren Child) but maybe I'm just not thinking hard enough. Anyway, just intrigued to know your answers!

Offline Artemesia

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2014, 09:20 PM »
I have both male and female characters in my PBs, but if I counted them all I probably do have slightly more boys than girls. But closer to even than mostly one or the other.
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Offline JennaWren

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2014, 04:00 AM »
I have a pretty even mix in my PBs, but my strongest PBs seem to have male characters. Huh.

Offline CarrieF

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2014, 04:04 AM »
There was a number circulating around recently from a research study. I'll see if I can find the original source - but it was something like only 18% of animal characters in picture books are female. I don't write animal characters that often, but after reading that, I've made a conscious effort to write female animal characters.

Also, on a personal level, I noticed my 5yo daughter started referring to all her stuffed animals as 'he' (previously they had mostly been 'she'). She would sometimes start to say 'she' and then correct herself to 'he.' It really makes you conscious of the very subtle messages we send to children about girls and what character traits are "OK" for them to display.

Offline CarrieF

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2014, 04:09 AM »
Here's something, but this isn't the article I originally read. I'll see if I can find that one.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8494392/Childrens-books-are-sexist-and-enforce-gender-inequality.html

Offline Stephanie Ruble

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2014, 07:14 AM »
Mine are a mix, but more female than male, so I checked that option. The projects I'm working on now, that I've also written, are almost all girl animals. I've written boy animals in the past too though. The book I illustrated by another author has a girl character and another character w/o a stated gender. I think of the character as a boy, but it could be a girl. I didn't draw it to be a boy, so if the reader thinks it's a girl, or thinks it's a boy, then the character is who they think it is.

Edited to add: CarrieF - Thanks for the link to that article! I'd read similar things before, but that one was eye opening, especially this line, "The  persistent pattern of disparity among animal characters may even reveal a subtle kind of symbolic annihilation of women disguised through animal imagery."

Editing again after re-reading the article: It's talking about children's books in general, and not just picture books. I did realize that the first time through, but was thinking about PBs because of this thread. It seems even more ominous if you add in all kids books and not just picture books!
« Last Edit: June 16, 2014, 07:25 AM by Stephanie Ruble »
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Offline Debbie Vilardi

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2014, 08:38 AM »
I just want to add a note that some characters illustrated as animals are thought of as human by the author. I've heard a story or two where the author was surprised to see an animal character in the illustrations.

I once attended a workshop on reasons for using animal characters. The primary reason was to create social commentary or parody - people are less insulted by the animal world. The presenter was Helen Lester, author of Tacky the Penguin.

Offline Elizabeth Maginnis

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2014, 10:13 AM »
Interesting point about using animals in social commentary, Debbie!
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Offline Artemesia

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2014, 10:31 AM »
I have all boys at home, so I think the more boy-centric PBs came more easily to me. But now that I have mostly female nieces and a stepdaughter, I've been wanting to do an all girl book, too.


I have some PB mss that have human characters, but the ones that have animals were chosen because of a feature specific to that type of animal or a concept that worked better with animal characters. I think also it's more acceptable to have animals doing things that the PB audience age group may still be too young for, like walk to the store by themselves, as a simple example. And just because animals are really fun to draw. It's much harder to do children well (for me, anyway). I've also seen a study that showed children relate well to animals. (one where babies chose pictures/stuffed animals over other babies)


But I always thought (wrongly, I guess!) that more books for kids were written for girls than boys. So this is interesting!
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Offline Robertvs

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2014, 11:23 PM »
In the book I'm working on, the animals are just characterized by species; I chose gender-neutral. They could be all guys or girls or a mix?

Interestingly about making animals boys or girls, I'd probably be more instinctively drawn to stereotypical genders: boy dogs and lions, girl cats and kangaroos.

Offline Franzilla

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2014, 11:05 AM »
Yes, dog characters are almost always boys. And lions too, although I suspect that's partly because girl lions don't have that lovely mane to illustrate! Similarly kangaroos without pouches, ie male - what's the point?!! Tee hee.


Arte, yes, I suspect all my human books are girls because I've got girls too. But all my animal PB ideas start out being boys, which is odd. I think I am gender biased but I'm trying to force myself to think differently. It's hard, though, especially with a dog character which is what I'm working on. I find myself wanting to add bows and pink stuff, just to show that the dog isn't male. Ridiculous really! I read about someone, can't remember who, who read The Hobbit to her daughter but changed Bilbo into a female and it worked brilliantly. I might try and do the same with mine. It's one of my favourite books and I'd love it if Bilbo was a female instead!

Offline CarrieF

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2014, 11:16 AM »
My husband says when he was little he thought all cats were girls and dogs were boys. Similarly, cows were girls and horses were boys. :-)

Offline simon-beck

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2014, 11:32 AM »
I both write and illustrate. My first book, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Shark!" treated the animals as neutral apart from the pair of iguanas (putting on their pink and blue pyjamas), but the child in bed at the end definitely looked male, even though he and all the other characters were shown as silhouettes.

For my next book, Armadillo, I set out specifically to make the eponymous creature neutral. This led to some difficulties with the rhyming and scansion of some of the text, as I couldn't fall back on "he", "she", "his" or "hers". Even the candles on the birthday cake are pink and blue. It's up to the reader's imagination.

My "Bob" series, about "the best goldfish in the world" feature a male fish (he does wear a pink tutu in "Get Active, Bob!") but the books' narrator, Bob's young owner and best friend is an unspecified child. Even though I have two sons, I have a feeling that the narrator is a girl.

That just leaves my "animals playing musical instruments" alphabet book, "Narwhal Plays the Nyckelharpa". All the animals are gender-neutral with the exception of the stereotypically female "Kangaroo plays the keyboards", joey in pouch, playing a Hammond C3 organ with one paw and a Fender Rhodes electric piano with the other, like some marsupial Christine McVie...
« Last Edit: June 20, 2014, 11:34 AM by simon-beck »

Offline SarahW

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Re: Your animal characters: boys or girls?
« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2014, 04:34 PM »
For the most part it is an even mix of both. Now there may be more male than female main characters, but as far as the actual character count it is an even split.

Assuming it's not one of those minimalist stories I've been doing.