Friday, June 24, 2011

Anthropomorphic Main Characters

Week of June 19—Main Characters
Friday, June 24—Anthropomorphic Main Characters
/ [an-thruh-puh-mawr-fik]

1. ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human, especially to a deity.
2. resembling or made to resemble a human form: an anthropomorphic carving.

Yes, you know them and you love them—those adorable (and sometimes not so adorable) animal characters who populate many children’s picture books. “Animal characters imbued with human characteristics have [been] featured in many stories for children . . . Crucially, the use of anthropomorphized animals in a story enables the illustrator [and author] to depict a situation without any particular reference to age, social standing, gender, or race.” (From: The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books, by Desdemona McCannon, et al, p. 38.)

These wonderful animal main characters come in a variety of levels of humanness (or so it seems to me).

Barely Human

Curious George falls into this category for me. His mischievous ways are human-like, but does George ever talk, make change, or drive a car? Geroge is, well, curious, and that could be because he’s a monkey or because he’s a anthropomorphized monkey.

Walter, from Walter the Farting Dog fame, truly seems dog-like throughout the book. But there is that one scene where he is rolling around on the couch trying not to fart where is human. (No matter how gifted you think your dog is, he still can’t reason that holding his farts will keep his family.)

More Human-like

In the Newberry-award winning, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Sneed and Erin E. Sneed, the zoo animals do human activities (playing chess for instance), have reasoning skills (and map-following skills) that enable them to find Mr. McGee on his sick day, and the animals can even empathize with Mr. McGee. Too me, they animals are still not fully human, they don’t talk like humans, for instance.

Fully Human with Animal Traits
In Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten by Lynne Marie and Anne Kennedy, Spike is fully human in every way. His one flaw (and his one recurring animal trait) is the way his spikes-up just like every other hedgehog. Spike with is fully human with an animal edge.

I don’t know that I will ever get tired of talking about Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat. Marge and Lola are definitely human in this story, but they do have some residual chicken in them. They can’t fly or swim (just like any other chicken) and their own really talents are their chicken abilities to bawk, flap, and shake (which, lucky for them, looks a lot like dancing).

Fully Human with No Evidence of Animal Traits

The animals in Say Daddy!, by Michael Shoulders and Teri Weidner, are fully human with no hint of animal traits. I heard Michael talk about this book years ago as he held sketches in his hand. He wrote the book thinking of human characters, when he received the sketches was the first time he saw/thought/knew that animals would portray the characters, which they do very well. I think the decision to make the characters into animals made the book more marketable since the bears represent all families without race or ethnicity being an issue.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Would you main characters be more intriguing as animals? Do you have an anthropomorphized main character now that needs to slide up or down the scale of humanness to be effective? Make your characters into creatures if it serves your story and makes it stronger. If not, then don’t

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