To Read or Not to Eat: Anthropomorphism in Children’s Books

In: Society & Animals
Anastassiya Andrianova Department of English, North Dakota State University Fargo, ND

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Anthropomorphic nonhuman animals figure prominently in children’s literature, teaching young readers relevant life lessons and adding variety, humor, and emotional distance to safely consider otherwise traumatizing ideas. Despite its educational and developmental value, however, using animal characters to tell human stories normalizes the very same mechanisms that adult humans use to subjugate real animals. Bringing animal-studies insights to bear on children’s literature and development, this article critiques the use of anthropomorphism in children’s books and urges that, short of the unrealistic demand to abandon the animal as metaphor, young readers and their adult mentors reread children’s books critically and discuss ways of making animals matter. The article examines the debate about anthropomorphism in science and its application to childhood development. It then turns to the pros and cons of anthropomorphizing animals in children’s books and discusses specific examples of books featuring anthropomorphic animal characters.

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