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Harming a charater in a PB

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I've written a fractured fairy tale. My critique group has given advice from the opposite end of the spectrum. They are all animal characters. One member thinks it's okay for the aggressive animal to kill another while the main character is saved. Right now it just shows SNAP! I'm thinking the illustrations can show maybe feather's flying since the character is a bird attacked by an alligator. Whether or not the animal dies would be up to interpretation. Another member says this bird even getting attacked is too violent. The main character actually lures the bird to the alligator to save himself.

Any advice? Thanks!

 :bighelp
#1 - January 31, 2014, 11:11 PM
THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican Pub. Co. Jan 2015)
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I have read a lot of PBs and can't think of many contemporary PBs in which implied  or overt violence happens to a character.
#2 - February 01, 2014, 12:14 AM
I've Got Eyes! - Amicus Ink

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I agree with Julie.  This would be too much for my little ones (but that's just us - we cry during coffee commercials, too). 


Since it's already a fractured fairy tale, perhaps there could be a wacky twist where the alligator is *tricked* to SNAP something unexpected, like a model of the main character made of coconuts or a giant grilled cheese sandwich - the goofier the better!


That way, the stakes are still high....there's still impending danger....but, in the end, the only harm is a bruised ego and disappointment (or a tummy ache).




 :winter



#3 - February 01, 2014, 05:30 AM

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Have you read THE SINGING CHICK by Victoria Stenmark? It seems the characters are gobbled up, but it turns out okay in the end (and it's one of our favorite audiobooks). Even if it doesn't help with your ms, it's a fun read. :)



#4 - February 01, 2014, 06:08 AM

It all depends on the treatment.


In I WANT MY HAT BACK, it's handled in an edgy, humorous way.


In GILBERT GOLDFISH WANTS A PET, it's used as a humorous surprise and to bring out the MC's emotions.


It really depends.


Is it necessary to the story? Is it handled tactfully? Does it match with the tone (and target age range) of the story? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself.


If you have several trusted critters bringing it up as an issue, that's a red flag. You might want to try something different and see if it works better.


I haven't read the manuscript, but based on your description, it sounds to me like it might be too much. But again, it depends!
#5 - February 01, 2014, 06:16 AM
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And then there's Aaron Reynolds' CARNIVORES, in which well, you know what carnivores do...even to little bunnies. But I agree; it's all about how it's handled.
#6 - February 01, 2014, 06:21 AM
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Maybe SNAP! Feathers fly, but the bird gets away -- sporting a slightly bald tail?

If the mc actually lures a sympathetic character into danger, it seems like the mc must develop a sense of remorse and perhaps together with his bald-tailed buddy, they hatch the plan that carrots mentioned. I don't think readers can maintain affection for an mc who has no remorse for such treachery. If the SNAP turns into a "vanished" friend, the mc could learn and grow, and then trick the alligator and "vanish" him! 
 :)
#7 - February 01, 2014, 06:32 AM
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Diana already mentioned "I Want My Hat Back"--and I agree. Take a look at that book, and maybe share it with your critique group!
#8 - February 01, 2014, 06:34 AM
Harold Underdown

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What is the tone of the story in general? What you describe wouldn't be out of place in Grimm's tales but would in Disney's versions, so it depends where your story sits on that scale. Your description reminded me of Tinga Tinga Tales which is a children's television programme here in the UK, based on African folktales about animals, e.g. how zebra got his stripes, how porcupine got his spines. The folktales can sometimes be quite cruel in real terms but as a cartoon with talking animals it clearly isn't realistic. So maybe you could consider it in terms of your story's level of realism as well.

As a parent and an avid pb reader I would have no problem with the SNAP/feathers flying aspect. I would appreciate the outcome being left unsaid so I can use an explanation that I feel my child would be comfortable with. I'm not ever so happy with the MC luring the bird to its fate, as it seems cruel and selfish, but I haven't read the whole story so I don't know the context. As described though, that's the thing that makes me uncomfortable.
#9 - February 01, 2014, 09:09 AM

With picture books, if it's a potentially violent end, I think it's best to leave it nebulous enough that the parents can choose how to interpret it to their children. I think about "This Is Not My Hat"--I didn't read the book as if the little fish was killed by the big fish; I simply thought the big fish found him despite his hiding. But I am also a bit of an innocent, as I also didn't read "I Want My Hat Back" as an end to the rabbit, either, until someone pointed it out to me, and that one's more overt.

Another book with a CHOMP type event: "I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean". Which leads me to think that humor is the best way to make this type of event acceptable in a PB.
#10 - February 01, 2014, 09:28 AM

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Thanks to all for your input! The beautiful bird is actually vain, the animal that lures is an ugly rodent, the alligator is just a roadblock to the goals of the rodent. I think I would prefer the bird's fate being up to interpretation but now you have me thinking of perhaps not having the rodent lure but rather having the bird put herself in harm's way.

Thanks for the book suggestions...totally forgot about how subtle the end to the rabbit was in ''I Want My Hat Back''.
#11 - February 01, 2014, 10:49 AM
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Diana and Harold's suggestion of I WANT MY HAT BACK is an excellent one, as is its follow-up THIS IS NOT MY HAT. Also take a look at Mo Willem's recent one: THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.
#12 - February 01, 2014, 11:09 AM
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While reading the replies, I thought of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly and the current adaptations of it. There is a Cajun rendition titled, There Was an Old Cajun (Who Swallowed a Gnat). I think with that tale and the spin-offs, it's so farfetched that it can be laughed about very easily.  However, because of the realism of a character whose prey may be what's getting snapped at,  it may be tougher to pull off. I agree with everyone above. It depends on how it's handled.
#13 - February 03, 2014, 05:37 AM
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I have just recalled SNAP WENT CHESTER. That's about a crocodile who snaps at a range of different animals. (Implied ending to all the animals.) The twist at the end is that Chester is just a tiny baby croc, so snapping was ALL he did! That was a nice treatment.
#14 - February 03, 2014, 04:00 PM
I've Got Eyes! - Amicus Ink

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Thanks for all the titles. I am sending the story to Rate Your Story for a critique. Very interested in hearing the opinion of whomever critiques it, that is if something more is given outside of a number rating.
#15 - February 04, 2014, 09:11 PM
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