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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

And Now . . . A Word on the Accuracy of Goat Eyeballs in Picture Books

Alternate Title: Betsy Postulates Ponderous Problems Involving Irritating Irregular Irises.

Alternate Alternate Title: She’s Getting Gooooooooofy . . .

So. The time has come. You knew it was bound to happen someday. A reckoning, by all accounts. It is time for us to stop whatever it is that we are doing, to sit down, and to think seriously about the shape of pupils and how they effect our affection towards illustrated characters in children’s books.  But first, let’s look long and hard at this image:


Here you can see Frog and Toad in what may well be the story that encapsulates my personal response to food and temptation. If you ever wondered why I don’t keep cookies in the house, this is your answer. But for just one moment let us concentrate on something other than these amphibians’ penchant for natty attire, casual slacks, and a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to wearing shirts (or failing to do so entirely). Let’s look long and deep and hard into their eyeballs.

Frog and Toad have horizontal pupils.

Frogs and toads in general have horizontal pupils. It’s not a surprise. What is a surprise is that Lobel chose to include these eyeballs as is. If you are writing an early reader and you are uncertain as to whether or not it will become a beloved classic, wouldn’t you hedge your bets and give your main characters every possible advantage to be thought of as cute or cuddly? Lobel’s choice to elongate the pupils of his characters is striking because almost no other author does it. Or, at the very least, very few dare.

Now let us consider the animals that have horizontal pupils and that also appear in children’s books with great regularity. They are:

  • Goats
  • Octopuses
  • Frogs and Toads

How often do artists go the route of Lobel and dare to vye in the general direction of scientific accuracy?  A quick survey by animals:


So here’s the book that sort of inspired this whole post:


I’ve been having a devil of a time figuring out if Pinkney gave these goats sideways pupils or not. When I first read the book I thought that he didn’t. But now, looking deep, deep into their little goat eyes . . . well . . .


Yeah, I think he’s playing fair. I mean, this is a guy who prides himself on accuracy. At the same time, he’s allowing the light to shine on their eyes in such a way as to make sure they’re not off-putting. You can see why. No one wants to root for demonic billy goats. Paul Galdone sort of played it both ways when he made the pupils elongated circles:


But by and large, not an option. They’re far more likely to fall into Gregory territory:



If you are hoping to make your underwater denizens appealing to small readers, off-putting eyeballs aren’t normally the way to go about the process. But what if your hero is an anti-hero?  Then wouldn’t it make more sense?  Introducing President Squid:


Now what Varon does here is fascinating. It’s not that Squid’s eyes are little sideways boxes, but neither are they strict circles. They look like nothing so much as little black spots you’d want to keep an eye on if you were prone to skin conditions. This gives the anti-hero a strange untrustworthy feel (ditto the  . . . are those teeth in a squid?!?). It is the closest I’ve found that anyone gets to sideways pupils when featuring squids and octopuses.  To be fair, it’s far more common in octopuses than squids. I mean, where else could you find them? Here?


Nope.  Here?


Nope. Here?


Nope. Here?


Closer. Again we see them doing the elongated circle option. Here?


YES!!  Chris Gall to the rescue! And, as a side note, this image from his book Dear Fish hangs in my bathroom. Which probably says something about me.

Frogs and Toads

Let’s have some fun and only look at picture books out in 2017 that feature frogs or toads. Let’s see, in terms of eyeballs you have:


Aw. Cute series but no go on the eyes.

QueenFrogsEt tu, Cali?


No go on the eyes, but I love the book. Though, to be fair, I’m a little sad that it wasn’t published under its original title (and this is true):



And finally . . .



Nope. Maybe my favorite reprinted frog book of the year but even Tresselt wouldn’t tussle with a questionable eyeball.  I think it’s clear that Arnold Lobel wins the day, yet again. But then, you knew that even before you started reading this post, didn’t you?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thank you for doing this important work.

  2. Well, human eyes get simplified and distorted just as often.

    It’s part of the storybook tradition, for better or worse. The Cat in the Hat acts nothing like a real cat, and the Country Mouse and the City Mouse act nothing like real mice, so it bothers me less than it should when they’re drawn as cartoons. Let’s not even get started with Mickey Mouse.

    Anthropomorphism is a complicated topic, and I’m neither for nor against it.

    I will admit that the giraffe in The Duchess of Whimsy freaked me out the first time I saw it, but I think it kind of works.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Sure, I get what you’re saying. I’m more interested when an artist makes choices that go against the grain. Drawing accurate off-putting eyeballs feels like upping the bar. Maybe that’s why it’s so seldom done.

      Love those Riddell eyes.

  3. This is truly my favorite thing I’ve read all day.

  4. I love it, but this sentence made me want to cry: “No go on the eyes, but I love the book. Though, to be fair, I’m a little sad that it wasn’t published under it’s original title (and this is true):”

    “under it is original title”?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Well, that’s what I get when I write midnight copy. Off to grab the virtual white-out once more . . .