Why Are the Characters in So Many Illustrated Children’s Books Animals Instead of People?

Many of the illustrated kids books that are published, and many that are excellent (including a fairly high percentage of the recommended titles on Books for Children), use animal rather than human characters. I’ve found this anthropomorphic writing technique to be a curious matter and have pondered why it is so common.

My personal conclusion is that there are probably two main reasons that animal characters are so often used:

- Animals are inherently interesting because there are so many different species, all of various fascinating sizes, colors, shapes, features, habits, habitats, etc. Human beings are just one species, so there’s a natural limitation to how varied human characters can be. People can’t have snouts, huge teeth, claws, fur, tails, fins, tentacles, shells, long or forked tongues, horns or antlers, wings, and other such intriguing features (although a boy attempts to add some of those things in the enjoyable book “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet”),┬ánor do humans normally bark, growl, chirp, cluck, hiss, moo, purr, etc. In many cases, authors and illustrators also try to portray such characteristics in cute and cuddly ways that enhance or add to the appeal animals have to children.

- Children can be more flexible about how they think about what animals are doing, thinking, and feeling because even very young children know there’s a make believe aspect when animals are portrayed as human-like characters who talk, drive cars, read books, ride bicycles, cook dinner, wear clothes, etc. This suspension of reality gives children the comfort to use their imaginations and in fact even encourages them to do so.

Other people have written other explanations for the widespread use of animal characters in illustrated books for children, but I believe these are the two most important reasons.