(On Maintaining a Sense of Logic in Writing)
In 2004, when I was still living in Surrey, British Columbia, taking care of my late maternal grandfather, I also got to read books regularly to my two nieces Amber and Julie, daughters of my cousin Mike.
One evening before dinner, I helped the two adorable princesses with their respective homework. I read to Julie the book she borrowed from the school library. (Julie was in kindergarten at the time while Amber first grade, both at Maple Green Elementary.)
The book was Friendly Snowman, written by Sharon Gordon (1980, Troll Associates). It tells of how to make a snowman and what a snowman needs, including the sort of things it needs to keep itself warm, to which the ever reactive and curious Julie wondered: “Uncle, doesn’t the snowman need to be cold instead, because keeping itself warm will otherwise melt it?” Because in the story, the snowman needed a coat, a scarf, and a bonnet to keep itself warm.
Julie seemed to have read my mind, for that was what I was exactly thinking when I got to that part of the story. “You’re right, Julie. Brilliant!” I said with a philosophic smile on my face.
That’s the kind of details many children’s books are missing. Not because a story is only fictional that the writer will disregard reason and logic.
So, let’s go back to the friendly snowman…
If I were the one who wrote the book, I would have definitely made the following detail:
…that the snowman needs a coat, a scarf, and a bonnet NOT because it needs to keep itself warm BUT simply for aesthetic reasons—to adorn itself, to make itself appear attractive especially to children. Because, logically, since it is chiefly made of snow and ice, a snowman would prefer a cold environment. In fact, the colder the weather, the better chance for the snowman to survive. The moment the temperature rises—becomes warmer—that would be the end of a snowman’s life, for it would surely begin to melt. Therefore, “to keep the snowman warm” defies the very essence of being a snowman. It is tantamount to killing the adorable creature.
Some people may argue, “Why put significance and emphasis on a trivial detail when, after all, the book was written particularly for children?”
My answer: For in a way, no matter how trivial such details are, we are able to instill in the minds of children a subliminal sense of logic. As they grow up, this sense of logic can develop into an ability to make good judgments. For, no lesson is more potent and enduring than those learned in childhood.
Anyway, the writer does not need to complicate the story to correct the details. It’s simply a matter of injecting a simple sense of logic. Like, instead of writing “the snowman needs a coat, a scarf, and a bonnet to keep itself warm,” write “the snowman needs a coat, a scarf, and a bonnet to make itself attractive to children”—which is as simple as the first yet logical and more sensical.
The Last Leaf
Many children’s-book authors (and adults, for that matter) seemed to have forgotten that they were once imaginative children too, underestimating the sense of reasoning of children. They think that putting logical details in a story is unimportant, perhaps assuming that children would not anyway notice their inconsistencies and logic-defying plots. Moreover, they think that because the story may be classified as fiction or fantasy that it could defy the readers’ sense of logic.
Even the greatest authors in the annals of Fantasy Fiction—the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and J.K. Rowling—have maintained a sense of logic in their novels—regardless whether magic was involved or not. In that way, children are encouraged to be as imaginative and creative as they could without distorting and losing their affinity to reality. After all, most if not all the elements of fantasy fiction are rooted in the real world.