My dogs talk. Not because they’re dogs, but because they are shape-shifters. They have to because they're librarians in their day jobs. You might think dogs and librarians don't have much in common, but as adventurous and loving protectors and guardians, they speak and sometimes speak for animals. My ancient race of dog-shifters have been protecting knowledge for thousands of years and if you believe their version of history, they taught humans to write on tablets, and created the ancient library of Alexandria. They are better than mere mortals, but also gentle, funny, and tough. Idealistic and moral. And I created werewolves to be the villains and comic figures.
The biggest problem I faced in writing my series, besides not being able to include every breed of dog, was not turning the dogs into caricatures. I felt each needed to exhibit the most noble qualities of their breed and the canine world. In Retrieved I included the serious issue of censorship when the werewolf faction attempted to remove all anthropomorphic books from the library.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution or personification that gives human characteristics to non-human entities. Primarily, this means gods or animals, but in children’s literature, objects like toothbrushes or toys also come to life. Anthropomorphizing makes unfamiliar things familiar. To the Greeks, gods were divine but also human. In literature, anthropomorphism is a common device, especially in fairy tales and fantasy stories. Humans have pursued transmutation throughout history. They want to be like like animals. They want to be animals.
The stories in Aesop’s Fables are meant to teach, not be taken literally. Genuine literature just for children wasn’t written until the 19th century. Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, and Pinocchio are examples both children and adults still read and love. In these stories, animals represent facets of human personality. The use of talking animals also disguises social and political criticism, as in stories of Beatrix Potter and The Wind in the Willows. Using animals moves a story away from a specific culture, race, or ideology and makes the story more universal.
When animals have human-like relationships, dilemmas, and thoughts authors can teach serious lessons in an entertaining and educational manner, especially if no humans appear.
Many children’s books portray animals realistically but allow them to be wiser and more noble than humans in order to teach children about caring, friendship, and ways to treat others. Young animals are often wonderful protagonists and stories where animals take care of things entrance children.”
Talking animals in children’s’ books (and many for adults) allow a character to say things a person might not get away with saying.
Talking animals stimulate imagination. They are no more evil than teddy bears. Children understand fantasy.
Here's an excerpt about Charlotte’s Web from Retrieved
From behind the circulation desk Taxi pointed to Ulfamer’s gawky wife and a man in overalls with a pink pig the size of a carry-on on a leash walking toward the Children’s Room. Taxi gestured for Godiva to follow and they stood at the entrance behind the pig man. Bliss, the Children’s Librarian, immediately stopped reading to a group of toddlers.
The children turned and seeing the pig screamed. The pig squealed and the children ran to surround the man and his pig. Bliss called them back but they were captivated by the pretty pig so like the drawing on the cover of Charlotte’s Web.
Bliss, normally so spontaneous, actually looked upset at having her story hour interrupted. “Why have you brought a pig here?” she asked as the pig began eating the pink sash of a little girl’s dress.
Mrs. Ulfamer raised her chin. “I saw in the newspaper that you were reading Charlotte’s Web this morning. I thought Mr. Bullard would be a lovely addition to your program.”
Bliss bristled. “I think my program is complete without the pig. We’re going to draw pigs and play Put the Pig in the Pen.”
Godiva stepped up. “Wasn’t Charlotte’s Web one of the books you wanted removed from the library?”
"Exactly. Since you love talking animals so much, I wanted Mr. Bullard to bring one of his special pigs to talk to the children.”
Two small boys in the front row started jumping up and down calling, “Piggy, talk to me!” Just as the pig peed on Mr. Bullard’s boot.
Taxi went off to find a mop while Mrs. Ulfamer introduced Malcolm Bullard the owner of Pigs Are Us. “He’s brought a pig exactly like the one in the book. Like Charlotte.”
Bliss shook her head. “The pig in Charlotte’s Web is named Wilbur. Charlotte’s a spider.”
“Does the name of a pig matter? The pig in the book talks.”
Bliss face tightened. “The pig talks to the spider. Not to humans.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Mrs. Ulfamer waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “In this book, which is read by children, the pig talks. Mr. Bullard, have you ever talked to this pig?”
The children were hushed waiting for his answer.
His face twisted in a smirk. “No, ma’am. I’ve been in the pig business for forty-two years and raise about a thousand pigs a year.”
“And have you ever heard one of any one of these,” the werewolf paused, then raised her voice, “42,000 pigs utter a single word?”
He shook his head and snorted. “Not one. ‘Course, we slaughter them before they’re old enough to get much education.”
The girl with the pink sash started to cry and Bliss knelt and comforted her.
Godiva asked, “Mr. Bullard, how much time do you spend with your pigs?”
“Naturally, their feeding, cleaning, and watering is automated.”
Godiva nodded. “Does your pig have a name?”
Mr. Bullard reached down and grabbed the pig’s ear so roughly the pig let out a plaintive “Oink.” The pig magnate looked at the pig’s tag. “This here’s Pig P98263G.”
Godiva turned to the parents. “Those of you who know the story of Charlotte’s Web, or saw the movie, know that these animals didn’t talk when the farmer was around. In fact no pig would talk to anyone who didn’t even know its name.” She faced Mr. Bullard. “Now, please leave the library!”
Amber Polo is the author of the award-winning The Shapeshifters’ Library series (Released, Retrieved, Recovered, and Reprinted), a canine cozy fantasy filled with books, librarians, dogs and a library everyone will love.
In addition to her award-winning fantasy and Arizona romance novels, she wrote Relaxing the Writer to offer tips to help writers and readers relax.
After living in seven states, she happily calls a small town in Arizona home. To learn more about her books and read excerpts, visit her website and find her on Facebook and The Shapeshifters’ Library Facebook page filled with lots of dogs. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org