So you want to include talking animals in your middle grade book? There are a couple “world rules” to consider if you want to take this route:
- Animals act like people from their speech to behaviors and people can understand them
- Animals act like animals, although people cannot understand them
- Animals can communicate with one another, but humans cannot understand their language; animals can understand humans though
- Animals can communicate with certain animals – be sure to clarify who is able to communicate and who is not and why – but not with humans
In my middle grade book The Dust Bunnies I originally began with rule #1. It did not get me very far. While agents liked the premise of the story, they did not like to see animals acting like humans. They were perfectly fine with animals carrying on deep conversations about life though. Go figure. So I went back to the drawing board and made my rabbits more rabbit-like, made my coyote more coyote-like, and so on.
Was it because I was inconsistent in how the animals acted, or do agents really have a pet peeve when it comes to this? I’m not sure. But I took the advice of many and it seemed to work out better.
Whatever you decide to do, stay consistent, be confident, be mindful of helpful advice, and always follow your gut. If you are thwarted by an agent who says, “talking animals are a really hard sell” think about all the wonderful talking animal stories that helped shape you. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith! It may be a tough sell, but it’ll be a worthwhile one. Give your pooch the power of puns, your kitty the glory of grammar, your prairie dogs the precision of punctuation! Now I’ve gone too far.
Keep on writing!