If you have kids, you probably have bookshelves full of stories that center around animals, but do you know why authors choose to feature animals as main characters and what children stand to gain from this?
As a publisher whose collection for kids features a ton of different animals, it’s been my experience that authors and illustrators love creating animal-based characters because they are universal, familiar, and comforting to most of the population. This is especially true for children because animals are a constant, stable image that change far less rapidly in time than people do. Books that feature anthropomorphic creatures as main characters help teach children important lessons of empathy, love, teamwork, problem-solving, and acceptance without being heavy-handed or preachy.
Why do we so often transform animals in children’s books? It may seem strange to some, but anthropomorphism and transmogrification have been part of storytelling for as long as humans have been telling stories. Anthropomorphism is a useful device, allowing readers to use their own experiences to connect with the characters and themes in a story.
The importance of animals in children’s books offers a survey of the changing representations of animals in the world of children’s literature, from their earliest appearance as symbols to their present function as characters within the stories themselves. Animals in children’s literature play an important role in the lives of children and their parents and guardians. Children use them as a vehicle to engage meaningfully with their environment, to gain perspective on the world around them, and ultimately to develop confidence in their ability to cope with challenges.
Children’s assumed familiarity with pets and animals can help them understand the chaotic, ever-changing world around them in a gentle, non-threatening way and can soften complex issues that books explore, such as death, divorce, illness, and bullying, as examples. Additionally, studies show many benefits when children read to animals, such as no fear of judgment if they make a mistake and an increased willingness to try again if they stumble over a word.
Reading is one of the most fundamental skills that children learn. It helps them develop essential literacy skills, and it helps them learn how to understand their world. Reading can also help children develop compassion, imagination, and a love of learning. But reading can be difficult for kids who have trouble focusing on an activity for long periods of time. This is where animals come in! Reading to an animal or cuddling with an animal while reading show an increase in engagement for children. Reading aloud to a beloved pet has been shown to increase reading comprehension by up to 30%. Cuddling with animals also expands relaxation and lowers stress levels, which can help keep kids focused on their books for longer amounts of time.
And if that wasn’t enough, benefits from cuddling with animals while reading, also leads kids to take an interest in an animal species! Children who are interested in animals will want to learn more about them, which gives parents the opportunity to talk with kids about conservation efforts or what they’re doing to help protect wildlife in their area, and they will seek out books that fill those needs.
As the world has grown to discover the needs of children and what makes them happy, books have become one of the key tools in discovering children’s learning and development. As children grow, so do their interests in the world around them, expanding from toys and friends to animals, the environment, and people different from themselves.
We all have the responsibility to take care of and preserve our world and the animals that live on it. Through children’s books, we can teach kids the importance of taking care of animals and preserving their habitats and natural resources. They can also learn about possible careers based around animals as well as our interconnectedness with each other as humans and other creatures on this planet.
Article by Lacey L. Bakker
Lacey L. Bakker is the owner of Pandamonium Publishing House, where the motto is Publishing Made Simple. We take a complex, chaotic, confusing publishing process and make it easy so that you can get back to what really matters, sharing your stories with friends, family, and the world.
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