Talking Animal Stories – Wind in the Willows MK II?

In my writing for children classes I often catch myself reciting the mantra: publishers aren’t interested in talking animals anymore. It’s what you hear at every writing conference and read on most publishers’ websites. And yet, I have published my own ‘talking animals’ book, Donovon’s Rainbow and many of the books I read to my three-year-old daughter feature talking animals too. One of her favourites is Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett and, to my delight, the Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne.

‘Grown-up’ favourites

cs-lewis-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobeMost ‘grown up’ readers still list talking animal stories as their perennial favourites, particularly those with a sociological or religious sub-text such as Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Wind in the Willows (1908), Animal Farm (1945), The Chronicles of Narnia (1949 – 54), Watership Down (1972), Duncton Wood (1980) and the His Dark Materials series (1995 – 2000). A recent Book Trust poll in the United Kingdom, which asked adults to vote for their favourite children’s book of all time, has placed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in first place and Winnie the Pooh in fourth. And although it is not strictly a talking animal book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar munches its way into second. Other talking animal stories in the top 10 are The Gruffalo, The Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland. That’s 60% for those of you whose reading is better than your maths.

Do publishers listen when animals talk?

So is it true that publishers won’t look at talking animal stories? Not according to Laura Backes’ article Straight Talk About Talking Animals. While it may be difficult for new writers to get their talking animal friends through the door, she believes that if you knock loud enough, you might get in:

Twenty years ago “talking animal stories” were everywhere. Then, in the early 1990’s, many editors decided they didn’t want to see these books anymore. Of course, established authors like William Steig never stopped populating their stories with chatty mice or frogs, but beginning writers had trouble getting talking animal books past the slush pile. Now the tide has turned again, and it appears that every publisher has new picture books featuring animals with something to say.

Wind in the Willows MK II?

kenneth-grahame-the-wind-in-the-willowsSo if you can’t stop those little critters from populating your imagination, why not let them out? The Kenneth Grahame Society are launching a competition to find a sequel, prequel or related story to the classic The Wind in the Willows. Stories must be a homage, written in a similar style, to a length of 5,000 words – an average chapter in the original book. There are three prizes of £500, £150 and £100 and a selection of the best writing will be published in an anthology. Closing date is 30 June 2008. Watch out, Toad is back on the road!

Whilst on the subject of writing competitions, the Nestle’ Smarties Book Prize, one of the few leading awards that asks children to vote for their favourite books, is sadly coming to an end. It’s been running since 1985 and past winners have featured JK Rowling, Lauren Child, Anne Fine, Quentin Blake, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Riddell. What a lot they’d got!

You might also want to check out this list of some more children’s writing competitions. And if you’re looking for a little inspiration, have a look at my articles on:

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5 comments on “Talking Animal Stories – Wind in the Willows MK II?

  1. Linda on said:

    Thanks for making me smile. My one and only children’s story was written for fun to entertain my daughters on holiday – they loved it – and as it’s about a “talking” dolphin, I suppose thats as far as it will go. I wish I had more time for short stories!
    best wishes

  2. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Mind you, talking animal stories still do well in the movies. Perhaps you should take your dolphin to Hollywood! Seriously, if it doesn’t work in one medium, shift it to another. A boy-meets-girl short story of mine didn’t get anywhere in its original form, but translated into a screenplay it’s now getting made into a short film (my first but hopefully not last). Thanks for stopping by Linda.

  3. Linda on said:

    Wow, that’s impressive, sounds brilliant.

    Thanks Fiona, perhaps if I changed my name to Whoopi Goldberg or Ellen De Generes it could stand a better chance. I’m only joking really, it was just something I did for enjoyment. It’s very different from my other short stories.

    You can see them at but please be aware there is some very fruity language!

  4. Can’t you write anything on talking dogs.Iam 19 years old and I have to write an article on science fiction on talking animals for my college.Please help me.

  5. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Hi Sam, if you read the article you will see that I argue that talking animal stories are still being accepted. It looks like you’re writing something for the adult market though. But in SF anything can happen 🙂 Good luck with it.

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