Animals in Literature

Choosing Animal-Themed Books

Points to consider when selecting, and discussing animal-themed books

Stories that feature animals are ubiquitous in children’s literature, however not all books send positive or accurate messages about animals. Here are a few things to consider before selecting animal-themed books with a humane message for your classroom. Many great books may not meet these criteria, but can provide great teaching moments if they are reflected on critically. 

How are attitudes about animals portrayed?

  • Attitudes towards animals have shifted considerably over the years – older books may reflect outdated views.

How are different species of animals reflected?

  • Are any species reflected negatively? (i.e.: Are snakes made out to be bad or evil?) Is there harm in demonizing certain species?

Is animal care represented in a realistic way?

  • Does the story promote misconceptions? (i.e.: Cats drinking milk). Does the story demonstrate realistic or appropriate care? (i.e.: Taking a fish on a school bus).

Does the story depict appropriate human-animal relationships?

  • Domestic animals depend on us to meet their needs. Is this reflected? (i.e.: Does the story depict domestic animals thriving without human care?) Does the story show potentially dangerous interactions with animals? (i.e.: Children hugging dogs)

Does the story depict animals with human characteristics (anthropomorphize)?

  • Are animals depicted realistically? Some degree of anthropomophization can be positive if relationships with, and treatment of, animals are realistic or if the story fosters moral lessons about how to recognize self in others (which can build empathy).
  • Books with animals that are highly anthropomorphic (i.e.: wearing clothes, going to work, etc.) are typically not effective at building empathy and understanding of animals.

Are wild animals realistically portrayed? 

  • Does the story glorify the taming of wildlife – which has negative (and sometimes lethal) consequences for both animals and people.
Visit Books with Animals for popular books that feature animals reviewed through an animal welfare lens to provide opportunities for critical thinking and awareness.

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