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Animal magic

The first of children’s author Amy Sparkes’ two-part series about writing animal stories concentrates on picture books

Think back to the books of your childhood – do you remember any favourite animal stories? From Fantastic Mr Fox to Black Beauty to Wind in the Willows, animal stories have enchanted us for decades. They have warmed our hearts, broken our hearts and helped us learn about the world.

In this two-part mini-series, we look at how animals feature in children’s fiction, examining picture books this month and looking at young and older fiction next month.

How are animals portrayed?

In picture books (for ages 0-6), animal characters are often given human characteristics to help children relate more closely to them. Sometimes this is at a high level, where animals talk in human voices, wear human clothes and have human problems. Examples include the Lettice stories by Mandy Stanley (HarperCollins) and Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth (Walker).

Sometimes the animals largely behave as animals, but express a certain human characteristic. This is often the case with animals which are pets of a human character. For example, in Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie (Simon & Schuster), the dog is mostly a normal dog: he sleeps in a kennel; he doesn’t speak in a human voice. But he does wear a ballet dress and steal the show.

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