Animal stories appear in a variety of forms, styles and genres. However, most include one or more animals and teach a moral or character trait. Animals can be the focus of the story and the story is told from their viewpoint
Some may involve pets of human children. The child may be the hero (like Old Yeller) but the pet is the crucial player in the drama.
Why do animal stories appeal to children? My opinion is that most kids yearn for a pet companion to love and so they look for books and stories of other pets and pet owners. Pets allow children to feel clever, protective, nurturing and loved.
Animal stories really resonate with early readers for a few main reasons:
- They avoid two major sources of childhood stress, conflicts with other children and parental disapproval.
- Very young children do not see animals as separate or other than human. They believe that animals maintain human characteristics and powers that humans have.
- Storybook animals are usually uncritical of one another and work together to find solutions to common problems.
- They use words and situations that are brought to their basic vocabulary. Kids can understand and adapt what the message is in the book.
- Animals are very loving, loyal and trusting. These animal heroes help kids compensate for their essentially powerless place in the universe.
Sarah Lean, the author of “A Dog Called Homeless and A Horse for Angel” says:”Has anyone ever doubted that Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You isn’t about us? The thing about stories that feature animals is that the creatures have a way of acting as a foil to highlight something about our lives. Whether the animals are anthropomorphised or form part of the human/animal bond, it’s the connections we make with them that are important.
A story can be funnier or richer with the presence of animals because we can see our own strengths and frailties in them. Maybe that’s why animals work so well for children’s books, because we are able to stand back and have a good look at what’s really going on. I chose these books for their language and their moving themes and illustrations, but mostly for the creatures alive on their pages.”
Sarah has created a list for us of favorite animal stories that encourage kids to read and relate.
1. Charlotte’s Web by EB White
This is one of my favourites and for no small part because of the unique portrayal of Charlotte, the nurturing spider. The circle of life is woven in an intricate web of the miraculous and the ordinary as Wilbur the pig’s life hangs in the balance. Outstanding from the first line onwards.
2. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla that lived in a US shopping mall, Ivan muses on his life, his cage, art, and the people who come to stare at him. Bob the stray dog, who finds comfort on Ivan’s belly, and a baby elephant named Ruby stir powerful feelings in Ivan as he finds out what it means to be a silverback.
3. Call of The Wild by Jack London
Buck is a domestic dog who, because of his size and strength, is forcefully recruited as a sled dog. Buck’s struggle is to adapt from domesticity to the brutal life he now leads and to overcome the difficulties he faces from people, other dogs and the harsh environment. But ultimately it’s the reflection on how Buck reverts to his instincts to survive and triumph that makes this powerful.
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
If it weren’t for the dog on the lawn, we wouldn’t have been able to take a look at what life is like for 15-year-old Christopher. Told in his unique voice, this is not just about Asperger’s or the quirks and phobias of the syndrome, it’s also an insight into what it’s like to live up to society’s expectations of “normal”, when probably most of us don’t feel like that at all.
5. The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo
I love any story that puts big cats and people together – perhaps it’s the element of danger from these powerful predators. The bond between a boy and lion cub is broken when Bertie is sent from Africa to a boarding school in England and the cub is sold to a circus. But it’s the struggle to be reunited that takes it to another level.
6. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
It’s the quirky characters in this story that stand out, especially the dog named after a supermarket. Opal is the daughter of a preacher who is striving to find her identity in a new place but, with the help of a huge comical dog, she makes some unusual friendships and gains insights into herself on the way. Great film too.
Getting Boys To Read
Mike McQueen in his ground breaking book “Getting Boys To Read-Quick Tips For Parents and Teachers” talks about the power of allowing boys to read to their pet. Or he even suggests making a puppet that they can read aloud to. The puppet and pet never criticize his slowness or inability to pronounce words.
Many schools have started READ programs where a therapy dog comes to the library or classroom so the children can take turns reading aloud. The programs are very successful in increasing reading scores but bonding to the animal.
Librarians and teachers find that elementary school students tend to choose a book about a pet similar to the one that is listening to them read. Their reasoning is that the dog will enjoy a book about another dog.
High School Readers or Non-readers
What Mike McQueen found on older non-readers is that they can be persuaded to read if the book is for a purpose. How to books give the kid a reason to read and reinforces the idea that reading will help you accomplish something.
He goes on to say:” How-to reading materials often connect us with things that we like to do with our hands. Men read fix-it manuals and books or magazines that teach us how to build things.”
Many a boy who hates English in school and puts off doing social studies, will pick up a dog-training obedience book, or one that talks about teaching dogs tricks.
Help Your Child Love To Read
Success breeds success and when your little one is drawn to animal books, read to and with him or her. Your goal is to help them form a love of learning and become a reader. When they can read to a loving pet or a loving parent, they will develop a relationship with books and learning that will put them in good stead for the rest of their lives.