One of my favorite student stories featured a character whose beloved pet was a horribly behaved dinosaur—definitely on the T. rex rather than the Barney end of the dinosaur socialization spectrum. As the conclusion of the story, the character says: “But it doesn’t matter if my dinosaur is naughty all nine days a week. I love him anyway. Because he is my dinosaur.”
I’m moved by what that conclusion says about the unconditional love that young writer was obviously receiving from somebody important to him. But it’s also a great reminder that there are some basic story lines that rarely fail to provide excellent starting points for struggling young writers. Ask a young author, “What pet do you really wish you could have, and can you think of how to turn that into a story?”—and most kids are on a roll.
In fact, the hankering for pets (even those less exotic than a dinosaur) has proved golden for established writers too. From my picture bookshelf alone I can pull out Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets, Karen Kaufman’s I Wanna Iguana, Cathleen Daly’s Prudence Wants a Pet (at one point poor Prudence has to settle for a branch), and David LaRochelle’s The Best Pet of All.