Have you ever wondered why animals are the main characters in many children’s books? Animals that talk, walk, wear clothing, and even drive cars often replace humans in stories. Why not just use people characters?
The choice to use animals instead of humans can come from the author or the illustrator. The illustrator may prefer to use creatures as a way to emphasize a character’s personality like an owl teacher that is wise or a mouse librarian that is quiet. Using the opposite of what is expected also works and adds surprise and humor to a story, such as a very loud mouse construction worker or a bashful lion accountant.
When an author writes a story about sensitive subjects like being truthful or being scared to go to school for the first time, an animal character can help give the message in a way that isn’t so threatening to a young child. It’s not as emotional to see a raccoon child with tears in his eyes before the first day of kindergarten as it is to see a human child.
The personification of any non-human form, like animals, objects, and even the weather is described by the term “anthropomorphism,” and you’ll find that many, many children’s books use this technique. Here are just a few authors and illustrators that use animals to tell their story.
Rosemary Wells has written and illustrated dozens of books using cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals as her characters. Yoko is a kitten who is new to school and making friends. Max and Ruby are bunny brother and sister learning to get along and the Kindergators are alligators who are practicing their manners.
Although Suzanne Bloom doesn’t always use animal characters in her books, her characters Goose and Bear have distinct personalities that make them endearingly predictable. Goose is always talkative and inquisitive. Bear is quiet and humble. Their interactions are entertaining, as you can imagine.
Marc Brown’s aardvark siblings Arthur and D.W. started off as characters in his books, and now also star on television. They have friends who are rabbits, monkeys, and a variety of other animals. Buster is a bunny with asthma that teaches by example that kids with asthma can still do everything!