This week, my altMBA colleague Hayim Mizrachi sent me two books: What the Dinosaurs Did At School and Dragons Love Tacos. They came highly recommended by his children. (Thanks, Hayim and Co.!)
The books contrasted with each other straight out of the box. The dinosaur book is visually depicted with photos, the dragon book with painted illustrations. The dinosaur book includes content on the endpapers (most picture books are exactly 32 pages, not including endpapers). The dragon book has conventional structure, but has unconventional author biographies—they are taco-like recipes to create the authors themselves.
Why might these books delight the same audience, despite their obvious differences?
Both books feature animals that are much referenced in our childhood, yet ones that we will never see in reality. And both give them personalities that bend stereotypes. In my childhood, dinosaurs and dragons were usually portrayed as vicious creatures best at one thing: destroying.* Not fun-loving, friendly, multi-talented creatures that the dinosaurs and dragons are in these books.
Perhaps there is something telling in this.
That we can delight in seeing things beyond what we’ve thought them to be.
That we are willing to imagine someone can be more intelligent, more creative, more courageous, more sociable than we’ve been told to think that they are.
That we are eager to see how we can relate to others…or in this case, completely other forms of life. That even in our earliest years, we want to be empathetic.
And maybe it’s that although our human brains tend to categorize and form assumptions and biases, we are also inherently willing to give something—or someone—a fresh start to a different kind of story.
A second chance. A third chance. And over and over.
*I can think of a few exceptions, like Tomie dePaola’s The Knight and the Dragon, the storyline of which I swear I conceived of independently in high school…only to find later that dePaola had already made the dream come true. (“Pre-stealing an idea” is apparently the term for this, and apparently you’re supposed to feel happy that you were onto something.)