Different types of animal stories:

  1. Those portraying animals in their natural environment and only partially allowing them human-like abilities (Black Beauty, Tarka The Otter, Watership Down, the books of Ernest Thompson Seton and Henry Williamson and John and Jean George). Disadvantages: We can’t know what it’s really like to be an animal — any ‘naturalistic’ story is therefore speculative.
  2. Those portraying anthropomorphic animals–talking, wearing clothes, thinking and behaving like humans–in separate communities, with or without contact with humans (The Wind In The Willows, Beatrix Potter’s stories, Charlotte’s Web, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and, to go beyond the English language sphere, Little Tiger and Little Bear stories). Disadvantages: These stories can easily degenerate into sentimentality and whimsy and even falsehood. ‘Nice’ animals tend to be furry ones; ‘nasty’ animals tend to be slimy/snappy/unacceptable. Wolves have been much victimised as evil baddies, which has contributed to their perilously low present day numbers.
  3. Those portraying anthropomorphic animals living among humans, as friends or intelligent pets (Babar, A Bear Called Paddington, Purrkin the Talking Cat)
  4. Those which are humanized or semi-humanized. The Anansi stories of Africa/The West Indies: there’s often confusion between humans and animals. Also, the animals have broadly human attributes which are nonetheless modified by their animal characteristics. Western folktales are full of humanized animals. There’s often camaraderie/cousinship between humans and animals. A lack of clear distinction between animals and humans seems to be an early developmental stage in children.

Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic To Linear: Time in children’s literature

– ‘Articulate Animals’ from John Rowe Townsend’s Written for Children

See also: Why so many animals in picture books?