Thursday, 26 January 2012
My 'Too Dangerous' Picture Book by Karen King
I've had a few picture books published over the years but my most popular one, a lift-the flap book called Silly Moo! almost never got published. It looks harmless enough, doesn't it? Yet several publishers thought the story was too dangerous for small children.
I can see your brain ticking here. What on earth did the cow get up to? Did she drive off with the farmer's tractor and crash it? Climb the tree to pick the apples? Go ice skating on the lake?
Nope. The basic story plot is that an apple falls out of the tree onto Cow's head and she forgets where she lives so wanders around the farm trying to get into the other animals' homes. They all get fed up so decide to drop another apple onto Cow's head hoping she'll get her memory back and remember where she lives.
Still can't see the dangerous bit? Well, let me tell you the gist of my conversation with the first editor who turned it down:
Editor (on phone): We really like this story and would like to publish it.
Me (getting excited): Oh, that's great.
Editor: We need to change it a bit though.
Me (a bit wary): Really? In what way?
Editor (firmly): Well, it's far too dangerous.
Me (puzzled): Dangerous? (wracks my brains) I don't understand. What's dangerous about it?
Editor: Well, the apple falls on the cow's head. That's very dangerous to have something falling on someone's head.
Me (baffled): But apples do fall out of trees.
Editor: And later on in the story the hen drops the apple on the cow's head again.
Me: Er, yes...but it's just an apple.
Editor (sternly):What if the children copy it and go around dropping apples on each other's heads. It's very irresponsible.
Me: I'm sure they won't.
Editor (very firmly): We can't risk it. it's far too dangerous. We need to change it.
Me: But it's vital to the story. I need the apple to drop on Cow's head so that she gets a bit fuzzy-headed and forgets where she lives.
Editor: We'll have to think of another way to for the cow to lose her memory (thinks for a moment) I know, perhaps she can be running down the hill and she falls over and rolls down to the bottom and hits her head ....
Now I think that sounds far more dangerous than an apple falling on Cow's head!
Similar versions of this conversation was repeated by several mainstream publishers over the next couple of years. I'd almost given up hope of getting Silly Moo! published when the wonderful team at Top That Publishing said that they didn't think an apple falling on Cow's head was dangerous at all, suggested making it into a lift-the-flap book and published it.
Now I know that we children's authors have to write responsibily and be aware of the young age of our readers but I honestly think that sometimes the 'gatekeepers' can be too cautious. What do you think? Have you ever had a picture book turned down because it's too dangerous, not politically-correct or 'unsuitable' in any other way?