Contributed by Audrey Penn
The most important thing I can do as an author of children’s books is offer stories that open communication between child and parent. In my Kissing Hand series, it is Mrs. Raccoon who helps Chester through his many issues and difficulties beginning with separation anxiety. Other books in the series deal with new siblings, moving, bullying, dying, fear of speaking in front of others and wanting to return home during a sleep over. These are issues all children face, but with the help of books and characters like Chester Raccoon, and the caretakers and teachers who bring them to life, children can face issues armed with understanding and a sense of self.
When writing, I often think about the brilliant diversity of color and sound, shape and size, and speed and agility that is present in the animal kingdom. Most people embrace these amazing differences with open minds and without prejudice. It is because we all too often close our minds to the beautiful diversity in people that I stay within the animal kingdom when writing my children’s books.
When a child is about six years old, he suddenly becomes aware of “differences making a difference”. Now, the same children he or she has been playing with since the earliest years of preschool become, quite suddenly, viewed in a different light. These early best friends are now seen through the eyes of their parents, their siblings, and their caretakers. The six-year-old who is desperately seeking positive re-enforcement receives it from these guardians whenever he imitates the words that come out of their mouths, whether they be praise or prejudice.
Because children imitate someone else’s point of view in order to receive praise, it is all the more important that caregivers are provided with the fuel, such as characters in books, to support a child’s early perception that differences don’t make a difference. Hopefully, characters in my books will give children the courage of their own conviction.
Years ago, I wrote a book called Feathers and Fur. It is the true story of a cat that saved eleven tiny ducklings. I took the story further and made it about the duckling’s parents who tell them to stay away from the cat because, “Feathers and Fur don’t fit.” The book shows how the little ducklings and Tuesday, the cat, come to love each other even though the duck’s parents try and keep them separate. They parents soon observe the love between those with feathers and the one with fur. The differences are put aside and the love is brought forward is this blended family.
In Kai to the Rescue!, I once again bring up the subject of a blended family. The story features a little green fire truck that is sent to a firehouse with three large red fire trucks. Being made to feel out of place and unwanted by the hook-and-ladder, Kai crayons himself red to look the same as the others though he is still very small. When he accompanies the other trucks to a fire he is told to stay at a safe distance. When a small underbrush fire erupts, Kai is the only truck that can fit below the trees to get to the flames. His red crayon melts and Kai is once again green, but proves himself a valued member of the firehouse.
I hope Kai to the Rescue instills a sense of pride and a genuine strength-in-self in every child who experiences it. More importantly, I hope this book and all my previous stories inspire parents and caretakers to embrace diversity and open up conversations concerning differences, pride, and prejudice.
Every book I write, whether it be a Kissing Hand book, an individual story, or part of the Mystery of Blackbeard’s Cove series, the stories and characters are intended to inspire pride and help find ways in which to allow, and accept, differences in others.
In Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover, the characters embrace the differences in their friends. The porcupine offers her quills for the game of darts. The skunk makes ‘stinky puffs’. The opossum learns manners. And the little raccoon leaves early to sleep in his own hollow. All of these stories are written with the hope of reaching children before their opinions are tainted by prejudice. Hopefully, children are armed with the tools and spirit they need to continue seeing their early friends through their own eyes and not the eyes of those who are prejudicial.
Audrey Penn started her career as a ballerina dancing with the National Ballet, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and the Danny Diamond Dance Theatre. In 1980, she became too ill with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) to continue dancing but, because she had participated in children’s theatre, children’s dance, and always enjoyed children’s literature, she turned to writing children’s books for her creative outlet. Today, Audrey has written over 13 books and is the New York Times bestselling author of The Kissing Hand. Learn more about Audrey through her website audreypenn.com.