Using Animals in Children’s Stories

Why Use Animals in Children’s Stories?

children's illustratorOnce upon a time animals and children’s books didn’t always start with Disney! It’s been shown that, historically, children’s books used animals as a way of tapping into familiarity; children would use animals they already knew of to learn to count, read and understand the world around them. One of the earliest known children’s books, “Comenius’s Orbis sensualium pictus”, seems to have been used to teach children the alphabet using animals. As the printing press grew, so did the demand for books and the thirst for books for children. Publishers would try to find new things for people to buy for their children, which were often a reworking of old stories accompanied by woodcut images of dogs, sheep and horses, but things did become a little more sophisticated by the early nineteenth century. During this time, zoos and museums were becoming more popular, allowing for more exotic animals to be drawn for, and identified by, children. Some of these stories were used to teach children about the various animals around them, but some had moral tales, and taught children about the correct treatment of animals. Since a child is normally quite young when these stories are being read, the cognitive development in the brain hasn’t quite refined the “group and sort” part of the brain. As it develops, and as they read, children learn to group animals and humans together, which means they see animals and humans as they would humans (anthropomorphised), albeit with feathers or fur!

Morality and Animals

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Sarah Trimmer, an author who helped with the education of royalty, wrote a book called “Fabulous Histories“, in which a family of robins and human family taught children about kindness and social duty. The family of robins showed how to be kind to one another, and offered a model which the children could follow in order to have a happy life with family and friends. One of the best known children’s books about animals wasn’t written for children; Black Beauty” was actually written in order to educate people about the right way to treat horses. It could be said that the success of Black Beauty, which has sold millions of copies, shows how enduring books about animals are, especially for children. Children have an amazing ability to separate emotions and context better with animal models than with human ones. In order to capitalise on this, you’ll notice authors often show animals standing up for one another, helping their family and teaching morals. This is very evident in the Happydesigner illustrated book, “Percy the Pipistrelle Bat“, where children are taught about bat conservation through Percy, who is looking for somewhere to roost but is finding that many of his usual haunts are being taken away.

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Percy Bat looks for a place to sleep

Identifying With Animals

It’s been found that children do relate more to an animal, rather than other children, when reading a story. Using animals to teach children about the world so successfully shows an affinity between young children and animals that seems to work incredibly well. This could come from the fact children often have stuffed animals as “friends” from an early age, which allows them to see the animal as a being they can empathise with, and therefore learn from. In the Happydesigner illustrated story, “Go To Sleep“, children learn through the sheep characters about family relationships, counting and the importance of a night of rest. Because the animals aren’t threatening or scary, children know to trust the character; they will also most likely be aware of the story of counting sheep before bed to get sleepy. In terms of emotions, when stories deal with emotions that children cannot yet comprehend, or recognise properly, an animal noise may actually help the child to understand which emotion is being dealt with; for example, a growl or a purr can show something that children will understand but perhaps not have the ability to articulate yet.

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Anyone who has been read a Beatrix Potter book, or Wind in the Willows, as a child, will recognise how important seeing emotions and stories through an animal’s eyes are. If there is something scary, then a child will be removed enough from the character to be able to deal with that fear and possibly even face up to it. “Sadie the Spider” is a great example of an animal that is just trying to show everyone else (and, importantly, other children in the story) that she isn’t scary and spiders can be trusted.


Animals For Teaching

As touched on in the previous paragraph, children do still see a distance between them and the animal, as they aren’t of the same species. This is helpful when touching on difficult subjects, such as bullying, death or abuse. Having an animal they trust and recognise helping them through something can be a great way to approach tricky subjects. Situations such as the death of a pet can be a very tough one, as everyone will be grieving, so books like “Darcey Doggy” are a great way to help children cope with sad situations. Our own “Gillie Can” series features lots of ways children can learn to live everyday life, such as sharing, counting, baking and making. The animal friends are harmless, but still human enough to be identifiable.

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For lifelong lessons or tough subjects, an animal can be a great way of telling that story, or passing the message on. Just think of all the books you read as a child that stayed with you and featured animals. A child’s development can be enriched with the magic of an animal story, and they’re also great fun! Puppies, horses, cows, sheep; there are so many “cute” animals that can be used to tell a story that may otherwise struggle to capture the child’s imagination. For more great animal stories, check out our gallery page and see what you can learn!



A few of my previous clients

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  • "Sarah loves her work, her friendly ‘can do’ approach is reassuring whether you’re on your first or tenth book."  – Darron Jon Love
  • “When we first contacted Sarah, Dainty Dizzy was a concept;  an idea to be shaped into a brand.  Sarah took this idea and illustrated it perfectly….and our brand look and feel was born.” – Dainty Dizzy

  • “I was so nervous ringing you as i've never done anything like this before, but you were so friendly and put me completely at ease.” - Donna Purvis

  • "Outstanding illustrator with exceptional talent. You couldn’t wish for a better artist, as it would be impossible to find. Such a spectacular gifted designer who is always happy!" - Rachel Lake

  • “Thank you, Sarah, for the amazing work you did on the illustrations for my book. Working with you has been so easy thanks to your enthusiasm, flexibility, support, professionalism and, of course, the amazing quality of your work." – Stuart Neath

  • "Thank you both so much for your hard work and dedication. Sarah is a fantastic illustrator! It is nice to know I have worked with someone who is so professional at her job, and will certainly remember her for the future if I need another book illustrating."
  • “Books arrived safely today- I am absolutely delighted with how they look – I can’t thank you enough – you’ve made my dream come true :)” – Jane Collins

  • "The logos are absolutely fantastic, they are spot on brief and are even better than we imagined!Paolo Pini, Step Up To Languages

  • “Sarah was lovely to work with and keen to make sure that the illustrations were a perfect match for the story. It’s obvious that she really cares about her work and wants you, the author, to be happy with the final results.” – Marion Adams

  • "Sarah understood what I was looking for and produced a fantastic logo for me.  She is very approachable and friendly – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her” Katie Jarvis, Fancy Prints

  • Sarah has a great insight into how to best produce a children’s book and is really helpful in getting you there! I really cannot recommend Sarah enough – brilliant designer, friendly and professional. The experience has been a great one!“ – Jodie Jackson
  • Sarah is an extremely talented designer and illustrator. She has that rare gift of being able to find something in your business or character that you never knew existed" Craig Green

  • Sarah is professional, friendly and very knowledgeable, she delivered 100% with a new logo that was spot on! We can't recommend her enough!” - Lucy @ Get Active

  • "I am absolutely thrilled with the colours and love the look and overall feel of the book, its so different and unique, thank you so much"
  • "I hope my recommendation will persuade you to use Sarah! I cannot fault her, for her professionalism, enthusiasm and talent." - Michelle Hawkins, Director: The Flying DoDo

  • "She has a keen eye for the quirky detail, she is punctual and a joy to work with. I simply cannot praise her enough.” - Clickety Books

  • Sarah really understood the brief right from the beginning and has been able to translate my ideas and mental images, that at times were quite specific, into magical illustrations that are better than I’d ever hoped. She has absolutely nailed it!” – Gareth Edwards

  • "It's been great working with Sarah as our illustrator! She's been so great in taking all feedback on board and delivers work of the highest standard. Would 100% recommend :-)" - Michelle Gibbs, Doodle Dozen Series
  • "Sarah is amazing - very fast at understanding the requirements, great pictures and never too much trouble. I recommend her wholeheartedly" - Fernando Caldeira-Saraiva
  • “Sarah’s re-branding of my business has given it a much needed fresh and quirky feel. She provided us with an extremely friendly courteous and efficient service and injected an energy into the project, that only Sarah could.” – Discovery Leisure

  • “I am so happy that I found Sarah to bring my book to life. Sarah took the time to listen and really made the effort to make sure that I was happy and her brilliant designs translated the words of my book into a beautiful visual story." - Jodie Jackson

  • "I can’t speak highly enough of Sarah! She has brought Roopert Snoopert to life in a way I could never have imagined.
    The illustrations are fantastic! Sarah keeps you update with progress from the draft stage right through to sign off." - Paul Micklewright
  • “Sarah’s advice has been invaluable, she could have just illustrated my first attempt but knew there was more to be had from the story and pointed me towards the right help." – Darron Jon Love

  • "These posters and flyers are perfect”
    - Julia G, Manager at the Truro branch of Pets at Home

  • "Sarah quickly understood what I wanted to achieve and the look I was after. Sarah kept me informed and brought me into the whole process” – Darron Jon Love

  • "WOW! Love it! I'm so happy with what you've produced- and with so little input from me. FANTASTIC!!! THANK YOU” - Darren Pascoe: 'Red Rabbit Book'