E.B. White, Charlottes Web
So when you were a kid, what were your favourite books? The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Humpty Dumpty, The Jungle Book, what do all these books have in common? Well, all these characters are anthropomorphised, it was this thought that got me thinking. How did this affect the way we thought about animals as younger kids, and how does it make us think about it nowadays as grown adults?
Proposed Research Question
Do talking animals in picture books cause children to view animals differently?
A case study titled Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals, written by authors (Ganea, Canfield, Ghafari and Chou, 2014, p.1), talks about anthropomorphism in picture books and its effect on the way children think about animals. They conducted a series of experiments and studies working with children to help solve and investigate this question. Study 1 involved analysing the impact of anthropomorphic language used to portray novel animals in picture books. This was based on both the children’s ability to learn facts on animals in the novel and on their eagerness to anthropomorphize biological and physiological properties of animals. Kids were presented to books that had realistic pictures of novel animals, however the language used to describe them was either factual or anthropomorphic. In this manner, children were assigned to one of two book conditions: No Anthropomorphism (realistic images and factual language) or Anthropomorphic Language (realistic images and anthropomorphic language). They discovered that the results of study 1 show that the sort of language utilized in books influences how likely kids are to credit human attributes to real animals. Kids were bound to say that genuine creatures feel human feelings or even talk after listening to stories that used anthropomorphic as opposed to realistic language. Study 2 showed that the language youngsters hear in picture books has significant ramifications for their attribution of anthropomorphic traits to animals in the real world, however not really for their learning of factual information. They aimed to examine:
1.) To inspect the contributing job of pictures, alone or in combination with language, on youngsters’ learning and thinking about animals.
2.) To determine whether anthropomorphism in picture books expands kids’ readiness to underwrite human characteristics in animals, or whether realistic books serve to diminish kids’ natural anthropomorphic propensities.
The results of study 2 suggests that anthropomorphic illustrations have little impact on the data youngsters detract from picture books. Both 3-year-olds and 5-year-olds learned factual information from books with human pictures. However, when human language and pictures were joined, youngsters at the two ages were less inclined to learn facts from the books and apply them to the real animal. I look forward to investigating this topic further in much more depth with future research.
So, what precisely is Anthropomorphism?
“Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human-like qualities, feelings, and behaviours to animals and other non-human things such as articles, plants, and other supernatural beings” (Anthropomorphism – Definition and Examples | LitCharts, 2021). It’s significance stems from helping to create vivid, imaginative characters that readers can relate to because they are more human. Some very famous and popular examples of Animal Anthropomorphism in children’s literature include: Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
Believe it or not, according to (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – Banned Books, 2017), the classic children’s novel was banned in Kansas in 2006 because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural” and passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being an “inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.” This novel is well known for it’s anthropomorphism between the two main characters, a pig named Wilbur, and a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur on her web, writing “Some Pig”, in order to persuade the farmer to let him survive. How funny is that? Calling the pig ‘him’. The spider writes messages to help Wilbur live, praising ‘her’ friend. This is all a part of the animals in this story being anthropomorphised, giving the animals human-like qualities. The reality is, due to the human-like qualities authors are giving these animals, the child gets attached so when the spider dies, it resembles a person who they really care about dying instead.
Prior to selecting the topic for my research report, I had made some time for preliminary research and reading on the topic, revisiting the lecture audio (Week 4 “Invisible Animals”, Dr Evans 2021). Covering this topic has enabled me to further understand terms and the true meaning behind “invisible Animals.” It has taught me the definition of Anthropomorphism and how the media presents animals as human fictions. The lecture video shows BTS (Behind the Scenes) of wildlife shows and how what we see and what the media chooses to show us is not always real life. This causes a lack of communication between the editor and the viewer. This is what’s happening when children read about and see these anthropomorphised animals in their picture books. They receive mixed messages and get confused trying to differentiate between reality and fiction. This is supported by Geerdts stating that “the impact of anthropomorphism on children’s development of factual and biological knowledge about real animals has consequences for how we engage children in early learning about the natural world” (Geerdts, 2015).
Why this topic?
The general topic of “Invisible Animals” and anthropomorphism is known, but not known enough. It would be intriguing to parents as well as a much wider audience in hope to bring more engagement and education on the topic. I hope that not only myself, but others would gain better and much more elevated understanding behind the impacts it could have on children’s knowledge about animals.
Following my IDEA blog, heading into further research on this topic, the role and importance of anthropomorphic animals in children’s literature and how it affects their knowledge on animals will be assessed.
Case Study | Ganea, P., Canfield, C., Ghafari, K. and Chou, T., 2014. Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals. 5th ed. [ebook] UK: frontiers in psychology. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3989584/>
[Accessed 24 March 2021].
Geerdts, M., 2015. (Un)Real Animals: Anthropomorphism and Early Learning About Animals. Child Development Perspectives, [online] 10(1), pp.10-14. Available at: <https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cdep.12153>
[Accessed 26 March 2021].
Jenkins, J., 2021. What is Anthropomorphism? – Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips. [online] Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips. Available at:
[Accessed 24 March 2021].
LitCharts. 2021. Anthropomorphism – Definition and Examples | LitCharts. [online] Available at: <https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/anthropomorphism>
[Accessed 24 March 2021].
Bannedbooks.com. 2017. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – Banned Books. [online] Available at: <https://bannedbooks.com/charlottes-web-by-e-b-white/#:~:text=White,-Crystallized%20Banned%20Books&text=In%202006%2C%20Kansas%20banned%20Charlotte’s,matter%20for%20a%20children’s%20book.%E2%80%9D>
[Accessed 25 March 2021].