I have a confession to make—I speak for my dogs. They have different voices, of course. Rosie’s is higher and more refined, while Rocky’s is deep and confused. She blames me for making her an older sister at six, and he talks about the joys of biting things. Yeah, I’m one of those people, and, yeah, it’s silly, but I do it because I’m certain they have rich inner lives. All animals do. That certainty is why I write animal POV. Well, that, and it’s a blast.
To me there are three keys to writing it successfully—research, responsibility, and relatability.
Researching animals isn’t all Dodo stories and YouTube videos. Although, those are great sources for inspiration. No, sometimes it’s asking google which animals have paws like hands and then looking at images of chickens wearing fake arms for two hours. It’s a real thing, I promise. Personally, I do a LOT of secondary research. There’s a lot of great information online and, of course, the library has much to offer. Where possible I try to do primary research There’s nothing as helpful as spending time with the animals I’m writing about and the people who care for them.
When I was writing Horace & Bunwinkle I had the opportunity to visit with Better Piggies Rescue based in Phoenix. I learned so much from them that my online research hadn’t provided. The most important thing I learned is there’s no such thing as teacup pigs or micro mini pigs or a pig that stays under 25 lbs. The only way to keep a pig small is to underfeed it. Which leads me to my next point.
Writing for young readers carries a lot of weight. They aren’t as familiar with the suspension of disbelief so they tend to accept what you write in the story. That makes it all the more important to be accurate or at least acknowledge where you varied from fact.
Because it’s a series, none of the characters age in Horace & Bunwinkle, but I don’t want readers to misunderstand, so I wrote a note at the end of the book. The last thing I want is for people to buy a piglet thinking it won’t grow up. It’s not fair to the pig or the family. And I can only imagine the angry letter I’d get from the parents.
I also think seeing through an animal’s eyes strengthens kids’ connection to that animal and the world it lives in. They become more invested in protecting the environment and preserving habitats.
I always hope readers identify with my characters, even if they’re a dog or a pig. Horace struggles with a move from the suburbs to a farm, and for most of the book he refuses to adapt to his new home. Bunwinkle is the younger sister who always feels like she has to prove she can do everything her older sibling is doing. I think a lot of kids can relate to those feelings, and they enjoy the story more because of it.
Great animal characters combine both animal behaviors and human emotions. They create a connection with the natural world and inspire us to protect it. And they are a lot of fun to write.
When PJ Gardner was a little girl growing up in Colorado she dreamt of being an actress or a dental hygienist or even Mrs. John Travolta. It didn’t occur to her that she could be a writer until she was a grown up. Now her debut middle grade novel, Horace & Bunwinkle, is being published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s thrilled.
PJ lives in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with her husband, sons, and Boston Terriers, Rosie and Rocky. She doesn’t own a pig because her husband says she’s not allowed to.