Friday, June 12, 2009

Consistency of Dress

I don't write children's stories. Don't ever plan to (well, there is that one "Alien Bill" idea I've had kicking around in my head, but so far that's where it has stayed). Certainly have no intentions to illustrate them, ever, though there have been books brought home from the library where I have thought "I could do that. Heck, I could do better than that." But I don't foresee it as a career option, ever.

Yet, that aside, there are things that puzzle me in children's stories, that cause me to at the very least question the quality control process. Issues that, had they occurred in a movie or adult book, would be torn apart in the name of continuity.

Like the anthropomorphizing of animals, specifically the use of clothes or mode of transport. Now, let me say, straight up, there are two ends of the spectrum here as near as I can tell. There is the Beatrix Potter end, where animals consistently wear clothes, and in general behave in somewhat human fashion without giving up their animal natures. I have no issues of consistency with Ms. Potter; all her creations seem to wear clothes as a matter of choice, rather than necessity, and revert to their furry, four-footed (or webbed, or... whatever frogs have...) selves as needed.

Then there are the bears of Martin Waddell, or rather his illustrator, Barbara Firth. Big Bear and Little Bear, for those who have not read of them are bears without clothes. They have a cave, it is furnished, and they walk about on their hind legs, but by and large they are still bears. (And if you haven't read them, even if you don't have kids, you should do so anyway just to see what a quality children's tale should look like and then find a child to read it to. ... After you get their parents' permission, of course. Going up to strange children and arbitrarily reading to them will, in this day and age, get you odd looks at the very least.) Like the world of Ms Potter, however, the Bears' world is one of consistency. Their level of humanness stays within certain limits.

In between are things like "Angeline Ballerina" and "The Wind in the Willows." Now, before the hate mail starts - I think both are admirable works. Different levels, but admirable works. But both have the same problem. Angelina seems to alter back and forth between having to wear clothes, and running about furclad (as opposed to skyclad... which one might argue no furred or feathered animal can ever quite manage), with no real explanation ever given. It's arbitrary within any give book - one panel she'll have a dress, the next she's showing up for school with just her bag on. And there seems to be no logical recourse to it.

Likewise, Toad in "Willows" drives a car, rides a horse, and gets arrested by people, all of which would seem to suggest a rather gargantuan Toad. (One who, in other hands, might make much of the fact that a toad of such size could easily dine on pets and small children.) Other times, it is made quite clear that the animals are of their natural size and stature, especially in regards to one another. Again, there is no explanation, no logic given - it just happens.

And while the argument can be made that I am reading too much into the story, and that children don't see these things, I point out that my daughter caught one of them in another book. In that one, the cat had a small bag tied to its tail - a bag it seems to lose in the illustrations, but with no explanation given in the text. It just disappears from the illustrations.

Sloppy storytelling, if you ask me.

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