Animals in Children's Fiction

Manila Bulletin, August 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

Animals in Children's Fiction


Byline: JUSTINE HANKINS IN LONDON

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then Ill begin.

Once upon a time there was a wondrous lion, an ingenious spider, a downtrodden horse, a hedgehog in a bonnet, an owl that couldnt spell, and some belligerent weasels who all came to life in books.

Childrens books, that is a rabbit Mrs. Dalloway or grizzly bear Heathcliff wouldnt have the same clout with the literati. Although George Orwell got away with counter-revolutionary pigs in Animal Farm.

Young minds are open to animals that drink tea, drive cars and walk, talk and dress like humans. Children love anthropomorphic or fabulous creatures but warm to more realistic animal characters as well as cats in hats, boots and other accessories.

Childrens often intuitive friendships with their own pets are reflected in their fiction.

The Famous Four alliterates just as well, but few young readers question Timmy the dogs right to be counted as a fully- fledged member of the Famous Five.

Any animal-loving child will be able to identify with Ben Blewitt, the main character in Philippa Pearces A Dog So Small, who is unable to have a dog because he lives in a London flat. Ben daydreams about the dogs he would like to own but has to make do with a fantasy chihuahua for most of the book.

Animals dont necessarily need a child companion to carry a compelling drama; Sheila Burnfords The Incredible Journey tells the story of two dogs and a cat who travel home across 321km of Canadian wilderness.

Disney gave the animals human voices in the second film version, but the book steers clear of pet-speak.

An awful lot of children out there really believe in their animals, says William Corlett, author of the Magicians House quartet, in which children use magic to talk to animals.

The hero of Corletts latest book, Kitty, is a stray dog in Spain who has a string of arduous adventures. …

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