I just read A Child’s Wild Kingdom, an excellent article in today’s New York Times. It was written by Jon Mooallem and discusses how children view animals, and the role animals play in their lives. Animals figure prominently in a child’s daily life, from their dreams to their playtime. (If I had a penny for every bark ever woofed by a child in my classroom I would be Oprah-rich.) But children’s literature is probably where your preschooler’s connection to animals is strongest.
I spent yesterday afternoon sorting through and reshelving the children’s library in the classroom, and animal characters are indeed featured in many of those books. One of the reasons children’s authors create so many anthropomorphized characters is that these characters can be sent on adventures or put into situations that no human child would ever (thankfully) experience. When Rotten Ralph (the cat) behaved badly at the circus, he was left there. Peter (Rabbit) camethisclose to being beaten to death with a hoe. (Or was it a rake?) Max and Ruby have all sorts of adventures that human children can only dream of, starting with living on their own, which is why children’s authors often dispose of the parents. Who can have a good adventure with mom and dad looming in the background ready to stop all the fun, or solve the problem?
Check through the books on your children’s shelves. I guarantee you’ll find plenty of animal characters or kids-on-their-own just begging you to share them with your children.