Saturday, December 6, 2014

‘Monkey’s Christmas Tree’ as children’s picture book

If I had to name a genre for “Monkey’s Christmas Tree,” it would be realistic fiction with a non-human protagonist.

When I wrote “Monkey’s Christmas Tree,” I tried to filter a human holiday tradition through a cat’s understanding. Moreover, I tried to express the feelings and experiences of a specific cat, so this story could be a fictional memoir -- again from the perspective of the cat.

Monkey doesn’t magically talk to humans; he communicates through body language that I’ve observed through a lifetime of sharing a home with cats. (This concept was much more fully developed in the original work of short-fiction, which you can read at

Aside from his name, the speaking noises humans make mean very little to Monkey. Instead, Monkey relies on scent to inform him about his surroundings.

The real-life cat, on whom this story is based, didn’t just sniff the clogs of a human visitor; he luxuriously rubbed against them.

Was he trying to “overwrite” the lingering scent of the human’s cats back home? Was he posting a reply greeting on a scent-based bulletin board? Or was he doing something altogether else?

Writing Monkey’s story also allowed me the chance to explore idiosyncrasies of human behavior. I am an autistic woman in a world organized along neurotypical rules, many of which are never explicitly stated. Sometimes human behavior runs counter to stated rules, and I have to be a “social detective” to find out what the “real” rule is.

I could absolutely relate to what seemed, to me, a perfectly logical conclusion: a low-hanging Christmas ornament was obviously intended for Monkey because it was placed in his reach. For a human to then interfere with his conquest sends an inconsistent message.

Assigned to create a picture book for my children’s literature class, I chose “Monkey’s Christmas Tree” because I believed that the story, which focuses on a cat, would appeal to young readers. I work part-time as Library Assistant at an elementary school, and books about animals, both informational and literary, enjoy regular use.

This picture-book adaptation intends to convey through illustration what was originally communicated in words. My hope is that readers can understand story elements when I rely upon pictures alone.

I chose stark black ink against white paper with a splash of green color, primarily because I was working with media that were readily available. But I have always been particularly attracted to the graphic-novel approach. So I convey Monkey’s impressions of human voices through speaking balloons. His name is rendered in readable text, but everything else consists of dashes. The humans produce sounds, but those sounds hold no relevant meaning.

Ultimately, my hope is that readers would be able to relate to this character. Consistency creates a “safe” environment for a child, and Monkey models the importance of consistency.

Composed for Cuesta College ECE 234, Children’s Literature

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