I am a children’s picture book author and avid animal person. I have recently been thinking about why certain stories stay with us over the course of our lives. I have always liked children’s literature because I believe it is one of the only genres that can be enjoyed for multiple lifetimes. By this I mean that the books we enjoyed as children we remember throughout our own lives and then enjoy those books again with our children. I asked myself a few questions while I was awaiting the arrival of my first child: Why are children drawn to a certain book and request that it be read to them over and over again? Why are animals such a big part of children’s literature? Not only are they a part of the stories, they are often the main focus and are given many human characteristics and qualities.
I have come up with three reasons why I believe children appreciate and relate to animal stories more than most adults.
1. Animals provide some type of connection. Maybe the child has not yet felt connected to a person in their young life (other than Mom and Dad or siblings). Children can recognize the spirit of animals and can perceive an animal’s energy and are able to connect with it more so than with another person. Not only that, but the stories can provide the child with a connection to the real animals of the world as well.
2. Animals are more imaginative. It is easy to think about a child in a story doing chores, going to school, making friends. This is not new or original in a child’s mind. These are things that they themselves do. But when an animal is accomplishing these tasks in a story, it becomes more imaginative and vivid for the child. What child doesn’t want to imagine a raccoon learning to cook or a frog getting married?
3. Animals are magical. And it’s not just those fire-breathing dragons of faraway lands. Children can appreciate animals more so than the average adult. I equate it to the whimsical nature of a child’s perception of Christmas. As we grow older, we lose the magic of the holidays and become overwhelmed with reality. Some of this is by our own doing, allowing the world to beat a sense of monotony into us. Some of it just happens by accident as we grow up and transition into the real world. As adults we have difficulty believing in the human characteristics of animals and therefore we cannot fully believe in the stories the way children can.
There is by no means any scientific evidence behind any of these points. It is simply my musings on why children can appreciate animal stories more so than the average adult. Looking back on my own childhood, I can remember some of the books that I enjoyed and have now read to my own child. And most of them happened to be about animals:
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (1985)
Clifford the Big Red Dog (Series) by Norman Bridwell (1963)
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (1992)
Corduroy by Don Freeman (1968)
Animal stories also have staying power. All four of the books I listed above are on the shelf in my child’s room, currently in the rotation to be read to the next generation and hopefully instilling an even deeper connection to the real animals of the world. And I want to use this very important connection to the animals in the stories and books that I create for children.
Kristen Mott is the award-winning author of the Odie the Stray Kitten Series. She strives for her writing to encourage children to read, write, and have compassion for animals. She lives on a small farm in Indiana with her family, horses and cats.