Animal Violence in Children's Books?

  • Hello,

    I'm working with an author on a small children's book (so no publisher / art director to guide things). I'm happy with the project, but I have a question I was hoping to run by the great folks of SVS:

    Do (published / mainstream) children's books ever show the action of one animal harming another? Or is this usually portrayed as "after action", just showing the result? Or would this kind of action be better left to the text?

    Here's what the author just sent me: image with [baby lamb] being kicked or headbutted by [mother lamb].

    Since this is a more of a passion project with the author, we can ultimately do what we want. But I want to advise her, and since the story is already about a baby lamb being rejected by his mother, that seems pretty sad as it is. (It's based on true events of a farm where a baby lamb was rejected, hand-raised by the farmers, and then struggled to ultimately regain his place in the herd.)

    Of course, I can draw the "after" shot, but there are other images of the rejected lamb sitting alone watching the rest of the animals eat because he's not welcome. It just seems like showing all that gets pretty heavy! Hahaha

    Anyway, thank you so much for your advice!

  • Hello Carey!

    I think I've heard once before that the kids/animals on children's books can get scared, lost, sad, but is better if they never get actually hurt. Also, for a children's book, the concept of being rejected by it's own mother seems like a harsh one to me. As adults we kindda have to deal with rejection on a regular basis (specially as artists!). But for a little kid, that might be scary in a bad way.

    I know that, coming from a true event, the first instinct is to go with the facts. But since you are the ones writing the book and telling the tale, perhaps you can tweak the story a little bit. Keep the sad beginning and build up to a comforting ending, without being waay too harsh. Maybe the lamb got lost from the herd, every other animal rejects it and in the end, after the farmers took care of it, there is a reunion with its original family.

    I don't know If this might work for your story, so you might find a different way to approach it. Of course there are exceptions for everything, but I would just advice not to show explicit violence If you can avoid it, including emotional one (that might be harder for little kids than a little headbump).

    I hope this helps! Good luck 🙂

  • Thank you very much for your reply!

    I don't think I'll get the author to change much of the story, haha. It was a very popular local event, so people who were involved in helping care for the lamb are the (starter) audience.

    I understood animals to be a great "buffer" for telling more "heavy" stories, since the same events with human characters would be too much...

    Wasn't there a popular children's book that came out recently that showed a duck and a sheep trying to live a new life in the stomach of the wolf that ate them? Found it: I think it's The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett. Could you imagine that premise with humans? Haha

    I'm just typing my thoughts, brainstorming about this one.

    Thanks again for your advice!

  • @Carey-Bowden
    Wow, that is pretty sad & heavy material!

    If you are careful with it, it can be good for kids to see that life is rough sometimes, but you can overcome it. I agree that telling a story with animals can soften difficult subjects, and sadly, there are children who deal with this issue.

    To answer the question, I agree with @Boris-Bayo. At the same time, I also think a head-butt wouldn't be too bad, since goats and sheep use head-butting in their play, and a gentle version of the same gesture would be loving. So the picture wouldn't necessarily be violent on it's own (without the context of the story). I would definitely not show the mother ewe kicking her own lamb, though. (Or any of the other sheep harming it, either.) That would be too harsh.

    I think it also depends on how much of the story is spent dwelling on the herd rejecting the lamb. The more time spent on that section of the story, the less inclined I'd be to use an image that might be more disturbing.

    Poor little lamb! I'm glad the story ends well for him! Good luck figuring this out!

  • I agree with the others, and your instinct - it feels like it might be even more distressing with cute illustrated critters than in real life. Also though, if the goal is to hit on the abandonment theme I think that having a back turned/ignoring the lamb would pull my heartstrings more than aggression, visually speaking.

    Curious too see if there is an 'industry' answer regarding this as well!

  • SVS OG

    This story is indeed saddening and a bit too harsh for kids but I agree that it's a part of life and kids must learn that everything will be alright--- that other people will still help and accept you.

    Perhaps what you can do is show fewer scenes of the lamb being rejected and more of how the people around him are helping him. Show more of his recovery process and eventually him winning the acceptance of his herd. Focus less on the negative stuff.

    I hope this helps.

  • Thank you everyone for your advice!

    This had given me good food for thought, and I will get back to the author with some suggestions.

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