Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday 3 July 2016

All Creatures Great and Small

This week Karen looks at how animal stories can influence you in your adult life.

If I had to name my favourite book, Richard Adams’ Watership Down would have to be one of the top contenders for the title. Aside from the pure joy of reading Adams’ beautifully crafted words, a big part of the book’s appeal is the characters. From Hazel’s quietly confident leadership, Bigwig’s bravado, to Kehaar their raucous seagull friend and ally, these animals were relatable and memorable. More than once, when I’ve required courage in my life, an image of Bigwig springs unbidden to mind. Anthropomorphism is the assigning of human qualities and language to animals – and Watership Down is just one example among many of this occurring in children’s literature.

If you think of your own experience of enjoying books in childhood, it’s a pretty safe bet there was an animal story that has stuck with you and influenced who you are as an adult. Maybe your industriousness sprang from an appreciation of The Little Red Hen. Maybe The Three Little Pigs influenced the way you look for quality and durability in your shopping habits. Maybe the characters of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Gahoole, have impacted your political beliefs. Or perhaps Mem Fox’s Koala Lou taught you that being successful doesn’t mean you always have to win.

The use of animals in stories for both adults and children goes back as far as the earliest stories on record. They helped us make sense of the world around us in ancient times and they help children make sense of their world still. Books that use animals as people can help children come to terms with difficult or painful concepts. Through these stories we learn how to deal with difficult people and situations.  Black Beauty was the first book that was written entirely from the animal’s point of view and taught us valuable lessons about empathy, loyalty and loss.

Which all serves to highlight the tremendous power of books in childhood, and the imperative that all children get to experience quality literature. Imagine a childhood without Aesop’s fables, Charlotte’s Web, Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh. Not only would we have missed the valuable life lessons depicted, but also the fabulous introduction to humour, wonder and fantasy that is such a key part of becoming a Booklover.

Karen MacPherson

CBCA Picture Book of the Year Judge 2017


  1. Jack London's Call of the Wild is one novel that I transfixed me when it was first read aloud in our household, and that I have revisited several times over the years - and have maintained an interest in the canis lupus ever since.