Insights into the role of animals in children’s literature, from Aesop’s fables to classic fairy tales to modern stories.
Have you ever wondered why so many children’s books have animals as their main characters?
Now, we can look at Aesop. His fables go back thousands of years and are, of course, laced with naughty foxes, silly goats and cunning rabbits. They were created to teach his audience important lessons that would help them survive and become better people.
In stories such as “The Ugly Duckling” and even “Little Red Riding Hood,” animals play an important instructional role, representing the many sides of human nature. They can be mean and sneaky like the Big Bad Wolf, or naïve and vulnerable like the Little Duckling.
However, did you know that there are other reasons why children’s authors choose animals as their characters?
Many children’s books were created to help children learn more about themselves. They focus on values such as sharing, generosity, kindness and friendship. They aim to teach children how they can best shape their characters and be happier, well-rounded people.
No race, no culture, no color, no class
Can you think of a children’s book which has an animal as the main character? There are thousands available. Was the animal of a particular race? Did he or she come from a particular religious or ethnic culture? Did the animal have a particular skin color or come from a particular class?
It’s likely that the animal was blue or purple, or perhaps green, and that he or she had no particular race or ethnic background. And, that is the author’s intention.
Limited gender, too
All animals have a gender, they have to be either male or female. However, they are not defined by their gender. They have their adventure, solve the mystery, and face their fears as an animal first, boy or girl second.
Authors choose animals because they represent none of the things above. This allows the author to create a character which is immediately identifiable to any child who reads the story. The author can start with a clean slate, as it were, on which they can mold and shape the exact scenario they want.
Children need to read stories which touch their hearts and minds. They need to be able to say, “Yes, that’s me,” when they pick up a book. When the stories are about animals, the message isn’t cluttered by whether the character is a boy or a girl or what nationality or culture it might come from.
The story can simply delight and charm, and be owned by all of its readers across the globe because it speaks directly to them all.
Children need to read books which were created to meet all their needs. They need to experience the lives and worlds of others. The use of animals is a surefire way to cut through any aspects that might stop the child from immediately identifying with the characters and their stories. They won’t look at a book and see a child from another culture or the opposite gender, and think “That’s not me, I can’t identify with them.” They’ll look at a book with a rabbit on the cover and ponder, “I think and act like him. I have done silly things and wonderful things, too. This book could be about me. I could be a hero like this character.”
About the author – Susan Day
Susan Day is a children’s author and writer. Her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, is full of ideas and tips for grandparents, parents and teachers to support them in helping children become better readers. As well, Susan has created a guide to help grandparents build a more meaningful relationship with their grandchildren through their love and passion for books.
Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. And, apart from blogging, writing and reading, she loves coffee, painting and learning to box.