Rewriting Animal Farm for specific ages

The exercise on p. 40 (Part Two) asks that you take the sample from Animal Farm:

“Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking, Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way.  Snowball was a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but was not considered to have the same depth of character.”

and rewrite it for age-specific groups, showing and not telling the difference between the two animals.  I decided to begin with the younger group of, say 5-9 and tried this:

“When he was cross, Napoleon’s piggy eyebrows nearly touched one another over the top of his wide, shiny wet snout.  He would give an angry little grunt, and his dark little eyes would get darker still – and smaller, because of his frowning eyebrows.  Then his rosy pink cheeks would go an even deeper shade until they were almost red. 

              It was best not to get too close to Napoleon when he was in a mood like this.  Sometimes he’d lift one of his front trotters and hold it up, then BAM! he’d stamp it down so hard that the straw on the floor of the piggery would fly up and scatter dust everywhere – even over the other animals.  Napoleon didn’t care, though.  He didn’t even notice how dusty the farm was on normal days because he was too busy looking for something to be cross about.

              Napoleon was one of those pigs who didn’t have to say very much.  The other animals knew what he was saying by lots of different things: by the way he walked; by the way his ears flapped, by the size of his eyes and – well, the eyebrows you already know about.”

It went on for another 2 pages and introduced Snowball.

Then I had a bash at a slightly older age-group (8-12):

“When Napoleon was unhappy the other animals quaked on their hooves.  Or claws. Or trotters.  Or webbed feet.   And he wanted them to know how unhappy he was too.  He’d make sure that his booming grunt was the loudest noise in the farmyard and he’d want to know why the other animals weren’t cowering away from him in fear if they still happened to be out and about, enjoying the weather.  He’d stop, lean forward into their faces and make them shrink back on whatever type of feet they had, until they swallowed hard and recoiled as a mark of respect 

              Because Napoleon demanded respect.  He demanded fear and he demanded that all other pigs hand over a third of their trough to him every time theirs was re-filled.  That was how democracy worked and it was exactly how Napoleon liked to rule his world.  His subjects knew this and they had to conform.  Whether they liked it or not.  He didn’t know exactly how many of them didn’t like it – he expected it to only be a few – because after all, the way he ruled was the best way of ruling in the world. Ever.

              Snowball, on the other hand, wasn’t ever very cross; she disliked arguments and actually went out of her way to make the other animals feel happier.  If she had been able to, then she’d have been the kind of pig to skip and dance.  At is was, though, she trotted about merrily on her pointed toes and smiled a lot at everyone.  Her dewy pink eyes shone in the daylight and in the dark, her white eyelashes glinted like fairy lights.”

I’m not sure I ‘showed’ enough and think I might have still ‘told’ too much.  I found it quite a difficult exercise to get into.

In the younger rewrite I words and used more childish phrases like ‘piggy eyebrows’ and ‘wide, shiny, wet snout’.  I think it’s also good to use ‘sound’ words like the BAM! because a lot of children of this age group will be having the story read to them and sounds like these hold their interest.  I enjoyed writing the last section of the last paragraph – using the description of how to tell when Napoleon was cross by the way his face looked – and using the ‘well, the eyebrows you already know about’ – which I think brings the reader/listener much more into the story – almost like giving them a secret only the book and they know about.  Children love to be drawn into confidences.

The second, older age group, I knew I could use longer words, but they still couldn’t be too complicated.  ‘quaked’ I thought was fine; ‘cowering’, recoiled’ – I’d imagine that kids of this age-range would manage to work out what these words meant even if they didn’t use them in their own everyday conversations.

Because the age-groups are quite close together, and a follow-on from one another, it’s easy to worry that you’ve muddied them. (I did).  Because some younger readers might have an older reading age, and likewise older readers might struggle with books written for their ages.  I did consider writing Young Adult/teen,  but finally didn’t seriously believe that a teen would even pick up a book written about animals, having left farmyard stories behind when they were small.  If the book was perhaps marketed as a satirical account of the state of the country told using the medium of farmyard animals then that might make a difference, but I struggled to even know where to start writing with teens in mind and having an all-animal cast of characters.

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