The use of humanised animals in literature is not a new fad in any case, in fact, it has been around for decades!
The style is popular for numerous reasons, some being that the child can relate more to the animal than a child or even animals are used to show human nature towards each other. Think back, what stories can you remember that involve animals? Most likely they were best sellers too.
Since a child is normally quite young when these stories are being read, there is an interesting cognitive development. Since that part of the brain that is used to “group and sort” is not yet fully formed in the early development stages, therefore, children will naturally group things together, including animals and humans. Thus, the animal in the story is not seen as an animal, but just like a child only with fur, feathers or scales!
Showing Human Nature
Children have the amazing, yet intriguing ability to separate emotions and context better with animal’s models than with human models. To capitalize on this ability, authors will show animals standing up for one another, helping their family, and otherwise teaching a fundamental moral. These books may have the animal as the main character, or show the world the animal’s eyes, as in Watership Down.
The child can relate more to an animal than another child in the story. There are several theories as to why this is, none has been thoroughly researched however. One theory is a simple deduction of who their first “friend” was, normally a stuffed animal. A child will see creatures like their stuffed animal as someone like them. Thus, they can more identify with their emotions through animals. In stories where a character is trying to pinpoint an emotion, there is terminology that a young reader may not fully comprehend. However, a growl, purr, and so on, are realistic examples of emotion exhibited by animals.
The ever present reason for using animals in the story is for the simple reason it adds a nice distance between the reader and the subject matter. This may be helpful when having to touch on difficult subjects like death, bullying, abuse, and similar topics. For some children, they were in a very bad situation in some point of their life, so having a small animal help them cope and realize these feelings can be beneficial to the healing process.
Depending on the story you are reading, and who the intended audience is, the author is able to work magic with a plot line. From implied meanings, to very touchy subjects, animals are the ideal mode of transport for these lifelong lessons that are meant to help a child develop. There is no wonder why so many of the best-selling, most recognized books through the world all feature animals as the main character. It is for the magic, wonder, and delight of the child.