Practical Benefits of Talking Squirrels and other Impossibilities

I’m an illustrator, specializing in art that tells a story. I spent July illustrating companion stories about a city squirrel and a country squirrel, which was tremendous fun.

The challenge was, and always is, to create an alternate world, and to make it consistent within itself. “Consistent” should not be confused with “not silly.” Squirrel World is seriously silly, but consistently so. A squirrel who wore tennis shoes wears them throughout the book. Nuts are, of course, a theme. Of course, squirrels who live in your attic have a bowling alley — we all knew that. Guitars are made of heavily-laminated oak leaves; drums, of hollowed-out acorns. In Rich Stein’s Anthony Ant books, after extensive thought I gave the anthropomorphic ants four arms and two legs, (not four legs and two arms, and not two legs and two arms, as if they were just small people with antennae. The reasoning was: ants could make more mischief, which equals Better Story, with more arms.)

The fun of generating a new world is making up the rules. In The Piglys and the Hundred-Year Mystery (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RilWaHOCD) pigs ride bicycles, which they can do because I say they can. (In the sequel, it’s on my agenda to do a better job of drawing pig-specific bicycles, with low-slung seats to accommodate short legs. Should’ve thought of that in the first book.)Buildings in Pigville have shapes that announce their purpose. The pigs have invented the telephone, but not television, and certainly not the computer. As in Camelot, it rarely rains in Pigville — until the sequel. My pigs have, however, invented a goo that repairs broken china invisibly, and a glue that secures glued things immutably.

I study other authors’ worlds: the one in Roger Rabbit, Mary Norton’s miniature world in The Borrowers, anthropormorphism done right in Beatrix Potter, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts — I’m only naming the usual suspects; you’ll have your own favorites.

It’s freeing to play with alternate possibilities. What would squirrel sneakers feel like, look like? What would it be like to live in a hollow tree? To be able to fly? What’s the upside of tiny-ness, or of hugeness? I would argue that this is good mental exercise — like the White Queen in Alice, we might do well to believe “six impossible things before breakfast.” When I consider things in my life, so many would have seemed impossible, but they did happen, and they happened because I was willing to first consider, then believe them. Maybe a fondness for fantasy has its merits — I know I like to think so.

My website is: MaryCoonsDesigns.com