A few years ago I realised that all of my books are quite sweet and I don’t have any bad characters in them at all. So that started me thinking about introducing one.
Actually, this turned out to be quite a productive line of thinking because as well as this story I also came up with two other potential stories which I hope to shape up enough to publish over the next while.Adding this edge gives a story an element of danger which I quite like. I began thinking of ways to ramp that up. The way to best do that it seemed to me was by introducing the tigers to the audience at the start and show more and more signs of them getting closer whilst the monkeys are unaware.
The story begins with the adult monkey warning three little monkeys not to go down to the mango tree because there are ‘tigers down there’The very thought of mangoes of course prompts the monkeys to think more about them and how delicious they are and then finally to go ‘and look at the mangoes’. As it turns out, looking at mangoes only makes the monkeys even more tempted. The audience sees the tigers below but the monkeys are too distracted to notice. One thing leads to another and the monkeys take bigger and bigger risks.
In the end, of course, the monkeys are confronted with the tigers. It was a challenge to make the tigers frightening but not too frightening. As the monkeys have been deliberately disobedient I think what happens does need to be a little frightening. They kind of deserve it. I think young children will be able to cope because they have seen the warning signs all along and so can tell themselves that they would not have taken those risks. I think that will allow them to disassociate themselves with the monkeys to some extent.
Usually I like to read my draft books aloud to groups of children to gauge the pacing and it helps me to see what is working. Unfortunately I was finishing this off during the first covid lockdown and so I only managed to do this a handful of times with this book long before the pandemic. The drafts I read from were very rough draughts. However, the last time I read it aloud to children was in a bookshop in Mexico city in January 2019 and I really think it was one of the most successful readings I have ever done. The atmosphere was electric. It was that classic pantomime ‘he’s behind you!’ atmosphere and I noticed the youngest joined in once the older ones spotted the tigers. Since that reading I emphasised the hiding tigers more and made an extra spread in the build up because the kids really screamed with excitement when they saw the tigers. I can’t wait to be able to read it live again soon.
There are four double pages of a terrifying chase sequence which are the most fun to read. Especially the last page.One tiger seems to be almost able to grab the foot of the last monkey scrabbling up the tree. To make it a bit more dramatic I oriented it vertically. I hope that means there is an extra long pause at that page so that we wonder what might happen. Will the poor monkey manage to escape? It looks at that moment like it could go either way.
One funny thing is I came up with this story soon after ‘Don’t Worry, Little Crab’ and I later I realised the two stories are almost mirror opposites to each other in a number of ways. In the crab story, big crab helps little crab to overcome her fear. They go into danger but they do it safely together. In this story, it is the opposite, big monkey asks the little monkeys to stay away from danger but the lure of danger proves too difficult to resist. They go alone into danger.While little crab becomes more and more fearful in the face of danger the little monkeys are egging each other on all the way.
It was very difficult to choose a quote for this one. I wanted one around danger and mistakes but I didn’t want to encourage risk-taking. I suppose I didn’t want to overly discourage it either. Risk taking is an unavoidable fact of life.I am quite please with the one I eventually settled on: “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing” - Aristotle. I suppose learning from experience always has always had a bit of a catch 22 about it. I hope you like it!