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Q: Animals in children's books ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Animals in children's books
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: carlhollywood-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 28 Jun 2004 00:02 PDT
Expires: 28 Jul 2004 00:02 PDT
Question ID: 367158
Is there a reason why animals are so popular as characters in children's books?

The characters in many children's books are animals.  I haven't seen a
breakdown of percentages, but based on limited personal experience,
I'd say that at least half of the books I've run across have ONLY
animals (e.g., Richard Scarry's books, Frog and Toad books), while
others have one person and lots of animals (Where the Wild Things Are,
Winnie-the-Pooh).  Relatively few seem to have humans as the main

I'm looking for any intelligent five-dollar answer.  Is this simply
because kids love animals?  (But if that's the case, don't they love
humans as much?)  Is it because people are a lot harder to draw
convincingly?  Was there a study by an organization like the Gesell
Institute in the 50's that concluded that kids learn lessons better if
animals present them?

Just to be clear, I know this is a $5 question, and don't expect an
answer to all the "sub-questions" in the preceding paragraph.  I'm
just wondering if there's a commonly accepted explanation of why there
are so many animals in children's books.  Thanks!

Subject: Re: Animals in children's books
Answered By: tlspiegel-ga on 28 Jun 2004 01:10 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Carl,

Thank you for a very interesting question!  I thoroughly enjoyed the
research and must say it brought back some delightful memories for me.

The late Richard Scarry once said he used animals to eliminate racial
stereotypes, and also because children relate better to talking
animals in stories than to talking children. It?s an intriguing
premise, one that has been hooking kids on reading for years.


Children's Author Bethany Roberts

"Q.  Why do you write about animal characters so much? 

A.  There are many good reasons to use animals as characters in
children's books, but one that many people seem to miss is that
animals are multicultural.  Children of all races and colors can
relate to them.  Another good reason is that you can exaggerate with
animals.  Animal characters can do things in a book that a child
character wouldn't do."


Jennifer Richard Jacobson

"Q. Why did you use foxes in Moon Sandwich Mom?

A. I wanted to write about a character who could roam from house to
house looking for a new mother. A child cannot do that in this world 
it would be dangerous and well, rather absurd! But an animal dressed
in clothes and carrying a favorite rock... Why searching for new
mother seems like a natural and practical thing to do! Authors know
that you can have animals do all sorts of things that people would
never try.

As for why I chose foxes over other animals, I think that has to do
with the fact that we had a family of foxes living and playing in our
yard when my children were young. I still miss seeing those pups."

========================================= - Animals and Pets

Animals in Children's Literature

"Animals often appear in children?s literature to simultaneously teach
moral lessons and entertain readers, often while behaving like humans.

Children?s books usually treat animals in one of two ways: either the
animals represent attributes like love and loyalty yet remain strictly
realistic (Where the Red Fern Grows, The Black Stallion) or they
interact with their fellow animals as humans interact with each other
(Frog and Toad are Friends, Bread and Jam for Frances). Personally,
I?ve always preferred the latter; after reading Kenneth Grahame?s The
Wind in the Willows, with its proper English rodents and amphibians
lunching on sandwiches and wearing waistcoats, real animals seemed
dull. I?ve since amended my viewpoint, but I still can?t help wishing
that a smiling cat would help me tackle existential riddles,  la
Lewis Carroll?s Cheshire Cat.

Indeed, the Victorians took the fairy tale concept of talking animals
and ran with it. However, instead of imbuing their animals with the
wisdom of prophesying donkeys and birds, authors like Grahame,
Carroll, and Charles Kingsley created characters based on human
attributes. Mr. Toad, therefore, typifies the lovable nonconformist,
the White Rabbit displays a Type A personality, and the Otter from
Kingsley?s The Waterbabies represents every parent who has ever
claimed to want the best for her children while setting a negative
example in her greed and heartlessness.

Contemporary children?s authors still use humans as models for
animals, whether to carry on the great fabulist tradition, as Jon
Scieszka does, or to help children learn about friendship and caring,
as Arnold Lobel and Tomi Ungerer do. The late Richard Scarry once said
he used animals to eliminate racial stereotypes, and also because
children relate better to talking animals in stories than to talking
children. It?s an intriguing premise, one that has been hooking kids
on reading for years."


Nine Reasons Why Kids Love Books from "Beginning Books" by Nancy DeSalvo

"1. It meets the need for reassurance. Sam Who Never Forgets by Eve
Rice, meets the needs of children to be taken care of and not
forgotten. The child will see the elephant as himself and will see
Sam, the Zoo Keeper, as the parent who is taking care of him. Where
the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak fills another need. The child
always want to be boss, and in this story Max becomes king of the wild
things. Although the monsters in the book are very popular with young
children, it is Max, in command of his world, who strongly appeals to
them. Whose Mouse Are You? by Robert Krauss is a book I use with all
children, but is especially good to use with emotionally disturbed
children because it is so satisfying. There are great family
relationships in the book. The picture of the father mouse and his son
racing around the cheeses in their sports cars is one of the best
illustrations of a father-son relationship that there is in children's

2. The child can identify with it. Through identifying with the
characters, the child sees the book as an extension of himself. All
the Sam books by Barbro Lindgren can qualify: Sam's Ball, Sam's Bath,
Sam's Car, Sam's Cookie, Sam's Lamp, Sam's Potty, Sam's Teddy Bear and
Sam's Wagon. Sam is a typical toddler who has all kinds of typical
toddler problems, and children relate easily to this delightful child.
The Wild Baby by Barbaro Lindgren is for an older child. There are
three in the series, and the other two are The Wild Baby Goes to Sea
and The Wild Baby Gets a Puppy. Ben, the wild baby, has many escapades
testing the strength of his mother's love. Children love these books
more than their parents, who will question if Sam or Ben is going to
lead their child into trouble. The child, of course, know that she can
think up all these activities on her own.

3. It's a funny book. Children love to laugh and love books that are
humorous. They will want to hear them over and over again. All the
original H.A. Rey Curious George books are high on their list, along
with Harry the Dirty Dog series by Gene Zion.

4. The book is predictable or repetitious. Children like to be able to
"read" to themselves, so even two-year-olds will memorize books. Two
of our books most in demand for two year olds are Brown Bear, Brown
Bear, What Do you See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and A Dark, Dark Tale by
Ruth Brown. The latter always amuses me but it is a favorite because
of the repetition and the predictable end. Two of the favorite books
for three-year-olds are The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone
and The Old Woman and Her Pig by Paul Galdone. As the children soon
learn these books by heart; they do not want any words left out when
it is read to them.

5. The book is an arty book, or just different from the others. My
daughter Sally was given two books when she was a year and a half. One
was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which she liked, and the
other was Zoo by Bruno Munari, which she absolutely adored and had to
have read several times a day. This is not a book that appeals to many
young children, and ninety-nine out of a hundred would prefer
Goodnight Moon. But the book seemed different to her, probably because
of the unusual artwork. Frederick by Leo Lionni is a beautiful book
too, and a Caldocott Honor award winner but I have not found many
children through the years as crazy about this book as Sally was.
Parents and librarians should expose children to many different kinds
of books so that the child can pick out his or her favorite.

6. The book has rhythm. Children love rhythm books, and one of their
favorites is Hand, Hand, Finger Thumb by AL Perkins. This book is on
our "I Can Read" shelf but, because of the wonderful rhythm, I use it
in my toddler groups and on up. A second book, the rollicking rhyming
book Sheep in A Jeep by Nancy Shawwich, is already a favorite. The
illustrations are also delightful.

7. There is a happy event associated with the book. Many children love
the book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, because they have
been to the public garden in Boston where the mallards took their
ducklings. From then on when the boo is read, they remember their
happy experience. Another book in this category could be The Circus
Baby by Maude and Miska Persham. After going to the circus, children
want to hear this book again and again.

8. The book is a gimmick, toy or game. For instance, children love
"peek-a-boo" books because it is their favorite game. Two such
favorites are Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell and Where's the Spot? by Eric
Hill. We always encourage parents to by these books - the library
copies can be dilapidated pretty quickly, and children always want the
flaps to be intact. Another well loved book is What's for Lunch? by
Eric Carle. The children are fascinated by the monkey who slides on a
string to find his favorite fruit.

9. A child has a real interest in the subject. Children develop an
early fascination for trucks, fire engines, trains and other large
machines. Freight Train by Donald Crews is one such book. I use Big
Wheels by Anne Rockwell in my Toddler 11 group and am always amazed
that several of the toddlers can give me the names of all the
big-wheeled vehicles in the book. The Eye Openers series is great
nonfiction for children two and up. It includes Farm Animals by Philip
Dowel, Zoo Animals by Philip Dowel, Jungle Animals by Angela Royston,
and Diggers and Dump Trucks by Angela Royston."


Marc Brown's Arthur and His Father

"If you have children, teach children, or otherwise come in regular
contact with elementary school age children, you have probably heard
of Arthur. Marc Brown's books tell about Arthur's experiences at home,
at school, and at camp. These include losing his first tooth, getting
glasses, running a pet sitting service, and writing a story for
school. The stories are well written and illustrated and promote
kindness, responsibility, and cooperation. But, wait a minute, Arthur
is not a child; Arthur is an aardvark!
After reading a number of Marc Brown's picture books featuring Arthur,
I had several questions: Why is Arthur an aardvark when he leads the
life of a middle class child? Why has Arthur's nose gotten smaller,
then almost disappeared since the first Arthur book was published?
What can we learn from Arthur's family life, particularly his
relationship with his father? The last question, as you might expect,
occurred to me around Father's Day. To find the answers, I did some
research and began to read as many Arthur books as I could find.

Why an aardvark? 
What happened to Arthur's nose? 
When Marc Brown was growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, he and his three
sisters enjoyed the stories his grandmother told. After training at
the Cleveland Institute of Art, Brown held a number of different jobs,
including book illustrator. He enjoyed telling stories to his own
children. His son's favorite story was one Brown told about an
aardvark named Arthur who hated his nose. Brown's publisher encouraged
him to write it, and the rest is history. "Arthur's Nose" was
published in 1976. Since that time, Brown has written and illustrated
more than 30 books about Arthur and his family.

As for why an aardvark, initially it was because Brown had developed a
story about an animal with a long nose, and aardvarks have long noses.
As for why he has continued to use animals, Brown gave the following
explanation in a Scholastic interview:

"But one of the reasons that most of my books have animals as
characters is that I wanted characters that all children could
identify with. Arthur's become more human over the years, and he's
lost most of his nose, but he's still Arthur inside."


Embracing the Child

"All told, James has written over fifty books for children."


Author Style 

"Style can be considered how an author says something by their use of
words. In Bunnicula and The Celery Stalks Midnight, Howe is using the
character Harold the dog as narrator. From reading these two stories,
it seems as though Howe is speaking through Harold. In many of Howe?s
books, he uses one character usually an animal as his narrator.

In addition to using animal narrators to tell his stories, Howe uses a
great deal of personification. Personification can be defined as
giving human traits to animals. In Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks
Midnight, and Horace and Morris but mostly Dolores, Howe has given all
of his animal characters human traits. All of the animal characters
are able to talk to each other. On the other hand, none of the animal
characters are able to speak to any of the human characters. Thus the
interaction between animals and humans is the same in his stories as
in real life. It should be noted that the character Bunnicula, a
vampire bunny rabbit, does not talk to the other animal characters in
the Bunnicula series.

In the Bunnicula series of books, there are three central animal
characters: Harold the dog, Chester the cat, and Bunnicula, the
vampire bunny rabbit. Howe gives a stereotypical view of each animal
character. Harold the dog is the narrator of the series, but he seems
to be portrayed as a typical dog. For instance, he likes to eat human
food, especially steak and chocolate cupcakes. Harold can be seen as
being fiercely loyal to the Monroe boys and his little pal Bunnicula.
Also, Harold?s mind tends to wander when Chester is lecturing him to
thoughts of taking a nap or eating food.

Meanwhile, Chester the cat is portrayed as being smart and
intellectually superior to Harold. Chester is able to read books and
deduce from the material that he has read concerning vampires that
Bunnicula is a vampire bunny. Chester is constantly plotting schemes
to kill Bunnicula and uses Harold as his sidekick to put these schemes
to work."


"Howe's use of personification greatly enhances his stories. Children
love it when animals are able to talk and act like Howe's characters
because they can relate to his characters."


The World Is Full of Babies

(ages two to six) story and full-color pictures by Mick Manning and
Brita Granstrom.

"How babies grow and develop before and after birth, how they are fed,
bathed, carried, and cared for is the subject of this engaging book
with appealing, multicultural illustrations. An East Asian mother is
shown nursing her baby with the text: "All over the earth, babies are
suckling. You suckled your mom's milk. Some babies drink milk from a
bottle. Piglets and tiger cubs, monkeys and humans--all baby mammals
drink milk!" A human baby is shown sleeping in a small crib,
contrasted with a baby bat hanging upside down, a seabird perched on a
cliff, and a whale floating beside its mother in the sea. Although one
bottle is shown (not in use), the emphasis is on babies being held and
loved, without use of artificial aids. The contrasts between humans
and animals appeal to a young child's sense of humor. For example, we
learn that while children hold hands, shrews hold tails. The human
child carried by Dad in a baby backpack shares a two-page spread with
a mother crocodile carrying her babies between her teeth, a lemur
clinging to its mother's back, and a kangaroo peeking from its
mother's pouch. This book is sure to delight children."


**** Giving human characteristics to objects or animals is known as
anthropomorphism. *****

Should children's stories be told from an animal POV?
"Giving human characteristics to objects or animals is known as
anthropomorphism. Joseph Schwarcz, author of The Picture Book Comes of
Age and Ways of the Illustrator, and one of the foremost scholars of
illustrated books for children, has remarked that using
anthropomorphic animals in children's books is obsolete and expresses
a humiliating view of children.

In his article, "Getting Out of the Slush Pile," Charlesbridge Editor
Harold Underdown calls them AAAs, or Anthropomorphized Alliterated
Animals. According to Underdown, "This includes Sally Squirrel, Carter
Carp, and Billy the Bossy Beetle. Publishers get hundreds of stories
that fall into this category each year, as if a story is only a story
for children if it has a talking animal with a cute name. Often,
simply using human children works better in a story, since the AAAs
behave neither like real animals nor like real children."

The Children's Book Insider article, "What's In and What's (Often)
Wrong," addresses the use of talking animals: "Editors are sick of
Sammy Squirrel and Max Mosquito. The same goes for Claude the Cloud,
Billy the Button or any other inanimate object. Follow this rule: if
it doesn't talk in real life, don't have it talk in your story."
However in recognition of the fact that many popular children's books
contain talking animals, the article explains further, "Talking
animals aren't completely taboo, it's just that most writers don't do
them very well. What's important is that your animals have completely
developed, unique personalities and characteristics. You need to
develop these characters just as carefully as if you were creating
human characters. Too many writers use their animal characters as
stereotypes, thinking kids will be immediately drawn to them just
because they're animals. Everything your animals say and do should be
a logical extension of their individual personalities. And give your
readers some surprises. For example, a rabbit might not be cute and
cuddly; he may be absentminded, selfish, or cunning. We suggest you
read some previously published 'talking animal' books to get a sense
of what we're talking about."

Stephanie Owens Lurie, President of Dutton Children's Books, says
"write a good story." She prefers the author leave out any reference
to species, human or otherwise, which gives the illustrator more
freedom to create animal characters from the human-like actions and
feelings in the story.

It's definitely risky to create a story from an animal's POV, the
competition is stiff, therefore the story and the character must be
exceptional. Make it your goal to tell a story, not teach a lesson."

How Children and Adolescents Relate to Nature
Patricia Nevers, University of Hamburg, Department of Education

Paper presented at the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society at
Western Michigan University, September 21, 1999

click on links for:

The Tree House 
Anthropomorphism as a common form of reasoning 
Just how reasonable is anthropomorphic reasoning? 


Stormonth School - Parenting Resource Library

Scott, Sharon. Not Better...Not Worse...Just Different. Human Resource
Development Press, (1992).  A book that uses animal characters to
teach young children about prejudices of all kinds. Teaches children
to be kind to each other.

Bates Ames, Ph.D., Louise and Frances L. Ilg, M.D. Your Four-Year-Old
Wild and Wonderful. Gesell Institute of Human Development, (1980). 
Offers both practical advice and enlightening psychological insights
to help parents understand what is going on inside that four-year-old
head, as well as what they can expect from their four-year-old.


And lastly... Because children enjoy cute animals and funny characters. :)

keyword search:

children relate better to animals as characters in books
why animals popular as characters in children's books
animals children's books 
animals children's books reasons why
reasons children relate to talking animals in books
why children love animals characters books

Best regards,
carlhollywood-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Thanks!  Great answer!

Subject: Re: Animals in children's books
From: tlspiegel-ga on 28 Jun 2004 10:18 PDT
Hi Carl,

Thank you so much for the 5 stars, commments and generous tip!  :)

Best regards,

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