'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 7 November 2011

Guest Post: Peter Carnavas on Cheeky Protagonists

KBR is thrilled to welcome the lovely Peter Carnavas, author and illustrator, with this guest post on why children love books that feature a cheeky animal-esque protagonist.

I have read many picture books to children. As a teacher, an author and a dad, it’s a big part of my job. I’m always fascinated by the elements of picture books that provide the most enjoyment for children. Sometimes it’s easy to predict, sometimes it’s not so clear.

I have read books to children that I thought were terrific, only to be let down by their response. Then there are books that would never appeal to me but have children screaming for more. I’m sure most parents have hidden a few books behind the bookcase, those stories they just can’t bear to revisit at bedtime ever again.

The disparity between tastes is occasionally confusing but there are masses of great books that we all – children and grown-ups – can agree on. We like them because they are well written and illustrated. Children like them because the characters play out their own desires. In some small way, they want to be like that little person or animal on the page.

One the biggest desires children have is to be just a little bit cheeky, therefore a clever technique employed in some of the most enjoyable picture books is to focus the story on a cheeky protagonist. Children love reading about characters doing rather naughty or silly things. It gives them permission to enjoy a type of behaviour that they know would be a bit risky in real life but is loads of fun on the page.

It is interesting to note that this behaviour often manifests itself in a character that is not a child but a mischievous animal (which, of course, acts like a child). Diary of a Wombat (Jackie French and Bruce Whatley) is a classic example of a cute animal being cheeky, stubborn and a little bit naughty – all the things children would love to get away with themselves.

The cake-eating hippopotamus in Hazel Edwards’ books is another perfect example, in which an animal lives out the child’s dream of hanging out on the roof, eating sweets, watching telly and just being free from the shackles of parental authority. The Hairy Maclary series by Lynley Dodd – much loved in my house – uses this device very effectively. Hairy Maclary is basically a lovable town rascal, Tom Sawyer as a dog.

The title character in Tohby Riddle’s My Uncle’s Donkey gets to raid the fridge and stay up late – every child’s dream. Riddle explains: “What appealed to me about this premise was that the donkey gets to indulge in childish pleasures and fantasies that children rarely get to indulge in (but would probably love to!).”

One of my favourite characters from the past year is the lion in Deborah Niland’s It’s Bedtime, William!. His refusal to go to bed, reflecting William’s initial behaviour, would strike a chord with every parent and might even teach children a few more tricks to try at bedtime.

An older example is The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. This book has always seemed a rather strange one to me, though it is somewhat of a classic and my daughters adore it. They love the idea of a well-spoken tiger devouring the entire contents of the family pantry and fridge without any sense of reprimand or consequence.

Finally, how could I forget the biggest rascal of them all – Old Tom by Leigh Hobbs.

When executed well, the cheeky animal protagonist is a wonderful technique to use in a picture book. Perhaps these misbehaviours are more acceptable to enjoy when played out by charming animals, rather than just having a naughty kid causing chaos on the page. Children love cute animals. Children love the idea of being mischievous. It makes sense to put them together.

Peter Carnavas is the author/illustrator of five picture books. His first four titles have just been released in gift book size as Little Treasures. Don't miss our giveaway of these mini books, right here on KBR!
For more on Peter, visit his website ... www.petercarnavas.com