And yours, too!
Finding messages and meanings in your story you didn’t know were there.
Remember that high school or college English class where a student pointed out some hidden meaning in a story or poem the author never considered? It was sometimes invalid, sometimes insightful, but always unintended.
As an author, I’ve had that happen several times, particularly with my adult stories, but in a picture book?
Yep, there, too.
The difference was that it wasn’t a reader or member of a writers group who brought out a new meaning. It was my collaborator, illustrator Nicola Slater. And like the underlying message, it was probably unintentional.
That doesn’t mean it was wrong.
I’ve always said Leaping Lemmings! (a story about a unique little lemming who refuses to jump off cliffs with his friends) is about thinking for yourself. It’s about being who you are. “Feel free to be yourself,” I said. “Don’t be a lemming.” Or, if you are a lemming, be your own sort of lemming.
I had the main character doing his own thing all the time, asserting his independence. Then came those wonderful illustrations. On those brightly colored pages I saw him surrounded by other lemmings, all urging him to do the same thing. To join them in lemming things. Sure, I had written the text and the dialogue, but in those drawings, as the other lemmings strongly encouraged him to be like them, it hit me. This book is about peer pressure. Yes, it’s about thinking for yourself, but it’s also a clear example of peer pressure. It’s about how people want you to be… well, lemmings.
Then came another surprise. A few days later, my publisher (Sterling Children’s Books) listed it on Amazon. Guess what category they chose? That’s right — peer pressure.
Like I said, sometimes others see a meaning in your work before you do. Almost every book has an unintended message somewhere, even if that book is only 500 words. If your readers find one, listen to them. They might be right!