Animals dressed in human clothing? Still not a good idea, assert Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett in Lots More Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, a follow-up to their bestselling 1970 picture book, Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Released today by Atheneum with a 50,000-copy first printing, the sequel proves its title true as a frog leaps out of its trousers, an elk whose antlers are hung with an array of hats can’t decide which to wear, and a superfluously sweater-clad turtle “has a turtleneck of its own.”
Author Judi Barrett and illustrator Ron Barrett, who have created more than 10 picture books together and are perhaps best known for their perennial top-seller, 1978’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, dipped into their memories to recall the original inspiration behind Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing.
“Ron and I have both always loved animals,” said Judi, “and I remember hearing a news report of some kind on the radio, years ago, about a dog wearing a sweater—and that started me thinking about why animals shouldn’t wear clothes!”
Sharing his recollection of the book’s genesis, Ron said, “The original impulse was to do an anti-Disney book, since we were a bit tired of seeing a duck in a sailor suit. My thought was that animals should be allowed to be animals—and they should not be dressed by Uncle Walt!” In Animals, he explained, “I dressed the critters only to show how wrong it is. I remain unequivocally opposed to critter couture.” Their editor at the time, Jean Karl, loved Ron’s art and, he added, “The book was a done deal—even though we thought it was courageous of Jean to approve the chicken with the egg in its pants!”
Still in print after 48 years, Why Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing has sold 500,000 copies in North America. An early champion of the title, Ron reported, was Gloria Steinem, who reprinted most of the book in the October 1972 issue of Ms. magazine.
Ron mentioned that their Animals book led to his artwork’s appearance in two hallowed halls. Twenty years after the book was published, the illustrator received a call from Peggy Cooper at the American Museum of Natural History (where Ron, as an eight-year-old, had presented the director of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology with the “dinosaur” bone he’d dug up at summer camp, only to learn it belonged to a cow).
Cooper, who was responsible for writing the captions for the museum’s exhibitions, told Ron that she was “a big fan of the book,” and that she was working with museum architect and designer Ralph Appelbaum on a new Hall of Early Mammals. “She thought my drawings would be the perfect blend of scientific accuracy and humor for the ‘family panels’ in the hall.” The assignment, said Ron, assuaged his boyhood disappointment; “I was very grateful to have my art in the same museum I had come to with my bone find!”
The illustrator also told of his somewhat—well—topsy-turvy experience with the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2015, when a piece of artwork from Animals was selected for an exhibit. “The curator requested my illustration showing possums hanging upside-down by their tails, but wearing their clothing right-side-up,” he said. “The art arrived in Paris, and when the Musée sent me a photo of the installation, I was shocked: the possum art had been hung upside-down! After I wrote to the curator, she told me, ‘It’s a joke.’ Of course, it’s just what I’d expect from a country that idolized Jerry Lewis!”
A Creative Partnership Endures
Ron called the duo’s collaborative partnership “a two-way street,” on which they are each open to the other’s suggestions. “Judi and I get along very well, even though we divorced years ago,” he said. “We care for each other—and I think our brains are twisted in the same bizarre way!” To that point, Ron observed that the quirky humor of Animals is at the heart of the book’s longevity and broad fan base. “It’s the incongruity of it all—animals dressed in silly clothing—that appeals to so many kids,” he noted, “and really makes them laugh.”
Though the digital era’s technology has improved their mode of communication (email, observed Judi, “has changed the world—it’s heaven!”), their process has not changed much over the years. Judi shares her picture book text with Ron, who, she explained, “looks at it as an illustrator. Some things he’ll send me sketches of—and other things he will X-out. Take the clam, for example. I thought including a clam in the new book was a great idea—but it’s hard to put shoes on a clam! We have a wonderful way of working together—we play creative ping-pong by email, and end up with a mélange of ideas.”
Judi and Ron were squarely on the same page when the idea of creating a sequel to Animals surfaced. “Somehow, we got to thinking about how much fun the first book was to do—and there it was still bringing in money more than 40 years later,” Judi said. “And there were still a lot of animals out there to dress absurdly!”
Judi and Ron’s current editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, v-p and editorial director of her eponymous imprint at Atheneum, was “instantly delighted” when they approached her about publishing a sequel to Animals. “My first thought was, ‘How had we not come to this earlier?’ ” she said. “The first book is a classic on our list, and still sells beautifully. Judi and Ron have such respect for kids’ imaginations, and are willing to go a bit absurd. Adults may say, ‘This can’t be possible,’ but kids say, ‘Of course it is!’ That’s the power of Judi and Ron.
The author and illustrator are currently working on a picture book for younger children, entitled Look What I See, due from Little Simon in spring 2019, revealing what a dog sees from various perspectives. No word on what might follow that, but the collaborators’ mutual enthusiasm for their creative partnership clearly runs high. “It’s always wonderful working with Ron and trading ideas. I really find it very exciting,” said Judi. And Ron was quick to return the compliment: “We have a lot of fun making books together—and that is a very nice way to work.”
Lots More Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illus. by Ron Barrett. Atheneum/Dlouhy, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-4814-8866-2