“Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?”
“Oh, what’s it about?”
“Well, the characters are squirrels who…”
Usually one of three things goes down after this part, which always feels ridiculously like an embarrassing confession to me as the words leave my mouth.
- “Oh. So are they for kids?”
- Silence, maybe a vague chuckle or a “That’s interesting.”
- “Why squirrels?
My answers to all of the above:
- They are for everyone.
- Just smile.
- It’s a long story.
I don’t mean long as in complex, but often I have trouble coming up with a really solid, concise answer to this. Truthfully, squirrels were what popped into my head when I was coming up with the idea, but perhaps it would help to know when exactly it was that I first conceived the idea for A Dewdrop Away.
I was in late middle school. I was an avid reader. And up until about high school, most of my favorite books featured animals as the main characters. Hence, a lot of the characters I made up in my head were, you guessed it, also animals.
I decided I wanted to use this post to highlight what I consider probably the five most influential books/series behind my inspiration for Dewdrop. (order is not necessarily priority; they’re simply laid out in the order I can remember reading them, from first to last.)
1. the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.
This was probably the first longer, chunkier series I picked up around the age of 8. I made quick work of devouring every single book available, and the best part was, more kept coming out. I was reading these books from elementary through high school and I enjoyed every single installment, though some stick out as my favorites: the original Redwall novel, as well as Mossflower, Mattimeo, Martin the Warrior, The Outcast of Redwall, and The Bellmaker. I’ve never read another series quite like this to date: the characters are so vivid and human. Each species of animal in the Redwall series had its own particular flavor, or stereotypical personality associated with it, though there was occasionally breakage of these perceptions. There were stereotypically ‘good’ animals- mice, squirrels, otters, badgers, etc. , and bad animals, or ‘vermin’- weasels, stoats, foxes, ferrets, rats. The concept of prejudice due to a species’ reputation and of animals who fought battles of good versus evil just as humans do in stories- complete with swords, castles, and quests- ensnared me, and the world of Arborand with its different ‘races’ of squirrels and the conflicts they face was for sure influenced by the magical world Jacques created.
2. The Poppy series by Avi (illustrated by Brian Floca)
Oh boy. I started buying these through my elementary school’s scholastic book club, and I got hooked. They’re short books with simple stories and in each the heroine, Poppy, is pitted against a different, much larger and more formidable enemy- like the evil owl Ocax in Poppy and some real asshole beavers in Poppy and Rye. I can’t put my finger on what exactly made these books so great, so compulsively readable, but I loved them so much that one of my first attempts at writing my own story was almost an exact copy of the Poppy books. The main character comes from a troubled colony, has to deal with leaving home on her own, and even had a little earring in one ear and had a sassy mockingbird companion that was obviously a fill in for Ereth the porcupine. What can I say, I was really good at hiding my muse xD.
3. The Rats of NIMH series by Robert C. O’Brien and Jane Leslie Conly
I can’t remember exactly when I started reading these books, but I actually read them twice, and it’s rare for me to read a series twice through, no matter HOW much I like it. The second time I borrowed the audio tapes from my library and listened to it on the floor of my room with my younger brother. They were dark and gritty and perfect, and I loved the community of laboratory rats living free in the wild with their human technologies, and the story of the inner conflict among them and their liberation from the lab at NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) which had been experimenting on them.
4. Watership Down by Richard Adams
It’s a classic, and there’s GOOD REASON. The mission is simple: for Hazel and his group to find a new warren to call home, but their way is fraught with danger, and a lot of their world as rabbits is out of their control, dictated by the mostly invisible presence of human beings. This story was dark, disturbing and heart-warming all in one breath, and it’s one I will never forget…as I write this I realize I need to reread it. The 1978 movie was also amazing.
5. The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis
Another darker, more gritty series that centers in book one around mice living underground in the city, then moves to the country in The Crystal Prison. I went through these books in a matter of days after finding the first one in a bookstore in Maine. You forget that these mice are mice. They struggle with superstition, prejudice and fear of “the other”, as well as a dark presence naming itself god. This trilogy also had amazing illustrations to match the unsettling tone.
You forget, in all of these stories, that the characters are animals. They aren’t stories about fluffy little creatures existing in their natural habitats. They are stories about and for people, with deeply human themes, and somehow I feel that the fact they’re told through the eyes of small animals makes that impact stronger. Some other books I loved and read growing up involving animals which didn’t quite make the list are the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel, the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures by Michael Hoeye, A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler, and The School Mouse by Dick King-Smith (this last of which I took from my school library so many times I think they wondered why I didn’t just have my parents buy it).
So why squirrels? That’s why. I hope you took a seat 😛
Hope you’re all well and I’ll see you next week!