The Impact of Anthropomorphic Animal Stories on Children's Learning

A psychological approach

Term Paper, 2020

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


1. Introduction

2. The Value of Children ’s Literature and Animal Stories

3. Learning through Children ’s Picture Books

4. How does Animal Fiction Influence Children ’s View on Animals?

5. Anthropomorphism in Children ’s Books – Do Anthropomorphic Animal Characters in Storybooks Encourage Children’s Learning about the Animal or Foster their Prosocial Behaviour?

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Some of the best children’s stories have animal main characters. Those anthropomorphic ani­mals have human-like characteristics; they wear clothes, they talk, go to work, have feelings etc. Anthropomorphism enables young readers to understand more complex subjects or issues, since topics are adapted to children’s worldview.

Initially, anthropomorphic stories had a more significant purpose than entertaining children. They were rather used to teach children moral lessons in a humorous and creative way, appro­priate manners and behaviour. Those messages and ideas are often conveyed by analogy. That is, animal characters are given similar traits and feelings as children so that the story becomes more accessible to the young audience. Children engage in these anthropomorphic stories from early childhood and pass those stories on to their children so that anthropomorphism continues to evolve as a significant tool for engaging young readers.

The content of this paper is concerned with anthropomorphic animal stories that are aimed to­wards children. The main question of this paper is what effect do anthropomorphic animal sto­ries have on children’s view on animals and how do children benefit from those stories in terms of their learning results. That is, does anthropomorphism enable children to learn about the real animal and its biology? How does animal representation and the language of the story influence children’s learning? Moreover, this paper gives an insight in how these stories shape children’s view on specific species. With respect to the means of analysis, this paper suggests that anthro­pomorphic stories do not increase children’s knowledge about real animals, but rather illustrate an unrealistic image of animals and their biology. This paper does not analyse a specific story, but gives an insight in few studies that had been conducted with respect to the impact anthro­pomorphic studies have on children.

The first chapter gives an insight into the importance of children’s stories. The second chapter analyses which domains of learning can be encouraged through picture books with animal char­acters. The third chapter focuses on anthropomorphic stories in general and on children’s ability to transfer newly-acquired information on novel animals; whereas, the last chapter outlines whether anthropomorphic stories can promote learning about real animals or encourage chil­dren’s prosocial behaviour.

2. The Value of Children ’s Literature and Animal Stories

Children’s literature has many functions when it comes to learning; it does not only provide children with many opportunities to respond to literature, but it also gives them the opportunity to develop empathy, morality, creativity and also an understanding for their own cultural her­itage and the culture of others. Moreover, children’s literature can be used to foster children’s growth of personality and social skills.

One valuable part of children’s literature is the aspect of personality and social development. That is, children’s literature can help to develop empathy towards other people and to become less egocentric. Moreover, it can encourage children to build acceptance towards people that are different from the majority of people. Children’s stories also have the strength to encourage their emotional intelligence and moral development. This is achieved through stories that ad­dress issues that are controversial or of philosophical concern. Furthermore, stories aimed at children provide the opportunity to learn about cultural heritage and the cultures of other people. This aspect is of relevance, since it is crucial for children to develop a positive attitude towards different cultures. Therefore, it is important that stories are chosen which do not contain a ste­reotypical depiction of people from specific cultures. Another value of children’s books is the aspect of creativity. Children’s stories encourage the development of imagination and allow children to experience new situation from a safe distance. That is, they enable children access to the thoughts of a character and allow children to experience a situation from the eyes of a fictional character (cf. Crippen 2012).

There are many different types of children’s stories, which serve different purposes. One of those genres incorporates humanised animals as their main character.

Children’s tales about animals have a history that dates from the seventeenth century. Animal stories served for educational purposes such as teaching the alphabet and learning to read, counting and helping children to understand the world. Examples like the ‘Fabulous Histories’ by Sarah Trimmer combines the story of a family of robins with a human family and aims to teach children about kindness and social duty. Trimmer created the robin family as a model for children from which they can learn behaviour and sympathy towards one another. Moreover, robins represent the epitome of family life and have, therefore, also a symbolic meaning. Anna Swell’s popular story ‘The Black Beauty’ (1877) was initially aimed at adult readers, but also became a children’s story. Anna Swell’s story tries to encourage readers to sympathise with horses and seeks to give a lesson about proper treatment of horses. That is, Swell “‘sought in­duce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses and an end to the cruel use of certain reins and blinkers (cf. British Library 2015).

Stories as ‘Peter the Rabbit’ (1902) by Beatrix Potter are also induced to teach children about proper behaviour and dangers that can be caused by disobedience. The humorous and adven­turous story is characterised by Peter the Rabbit’s disobedience which causes him trouble. The tales is about Peter the rabbit, who disobeys his mother and enters Mr. McGregor’s garden, which is full of vegetables. He soon, is spotted by Mr. McGregor near the cucumber frame and is chased all over the garden and loses his jacket and his shoes. Peter the rabbit finally finds the gate and returns home frightened but wiser (cf. Encyclopaedia Britannica). Those stories convey a moral message that children could potentially transfer on their own behaviour and learn from them.

This chapter gave a shot overview about children’s literature and its value for children’s devel-opment. The following chapter will analyse how children can benefit from picture books in terms of their learning outcome.

3. Learning through Children ’s Picture Books

Picture books are a valuable source when it comes to children’s learning of new concepts, lan-guage and lessons. Strouse et al. (2018) have reviewed a body of findings on the impact of picture book features on children’s learning and transfer of words and letters, science concepts and problem solution from picture books. The review focuses on how the three key develop­mental factors such as symbolic development, analogical reasoning and reasoning about fantasy may have an impact on children’s learning and transfer from books to the real world. Here, learning refers to the child’s ability to recognise information that is presented in the book; trans­fer refers to their ability to apply new information to new contexts. However, it should be con­sidered that the ability to transfer newly-acquired information to new unknown context might be limited by “developments of their symbolic understanding, of fantasy and reality” (Strouse et al. 2018: 2).

Strouse et al. claim that the difficult part of transferring new information to real-world settings is that of symbolic insight. Accordingly, children first need to recognize the book as an entity in itself as well as a symbolic source of information about the world. That is, when reading a book about a specific animal, children need to notice that depicted animal in the picture book as a representative of the same animal in the real world. The ability to recognize a picture in a book as an object that represents another entity is a symbolic task that children have to accom­plish. In order to transfer complex information and concepts from picture books to the real world, children need more than only a symbolic insight. Thus, children have to activate a rep­resentation of that depicted animal in the book and remember all details about its appearance in order to correctly transfer the information to the real animal. More complex concepts, such as the ability of animals to use camouflage to hide from predators, requires children to recognise the abstract feature and apply those features to novel species (cf. Strouse et al. 2018: 2).

In terms of children’s analogical reasoning it seems that young children between the age of one and two, who are already experienced in one domain, are able to use deep features in order to solve analogical issues. But children who have a limited domain and conceptual knowledge are depended on the surface-level features when it comes to making an analogy and looking for commonalities among the species. More precisely, “if children’s understanding of colour cam-ouflage is tied to specific picture book illustrations (e.g., a frog) and surface features of that example (e.g., greenishness), they will likely fail to transfer the concept to other animals or contexts” (Strouse et al. 2018: 3). This aspect might be an issue when in terms of transferring information from picture books to the real-world, since picture books often enable access to content that that children would not experience in their daily life. Young children, therefore, might face difficulties in terms of their analogical reasoning, since their understanding of a concept is tied to an illustration in a picture book, which is not representative of the real animals.

When it comes to learning from picture books it seems that children’s capability to distinguish between reality and fiction, is an essential prerequisite. That is, children have to have developed the capacity to differentiate between fictional and realistic aspects in the story. This ability is particularly important when children have to extract unrealistic attributes of anthropomorphised animals and only transfer the factual information presented in the story. Strouse et al. note “children’s learning from picture books must be selective in that they have to separate what information is fictional versus what could be true in reality […]” (Strouse et al. 2018: 3)

This ability might depend on children’s capacity to recognise the story as something and to classify what the something represents. Anthropomorphic stories and illustrations of animals, therefore, might challenge children’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction and their reasoning about real-life animals. Strouse et al. argue that story books with realistic content might be more supportive when learning about the biology of animals or scientific concepts (Strouse et al. 2018: 3).

Story books also seem as a great source in terms of children’s language development. Strouse et al. looked at studies which focused on word learning from picture books with manipulative features, such as scratch and sniff or lift-or-flap books. The studies revealed that if learning new words, such as the name of an animal, is the focus manipulative features in books tend to be more distracting than supportive. Hence, manipulative features seem to be more distracting from the learning issue, rather than helping them to learn new vocabulary. The researcher concludes that “[i]f the goal is to teach children new words or letters, it appears that books with realistic images are best, especially with the youngest children. If books with manipulative features are selected, they should draw attention to the educational content rather than distract from it” (Strouse et al. 2018: 6). Conclusively, not all kinds of picture books are beneficial for children’s language development. It should be paid attention to the sort of manipulative features and whether they might distract children from the learning content.

The researchers conclude that children’s developmental stage has a major impact on their learn-ing. Some developmental aspects such as the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy might be crucial when it comes to selecting transferable information from picture books to a real-life situation or an animal. Therefore, children’s age and goal of learning should be taken into account when choosing a picture book (cf. Strouse et al. 2018: 12).

This chapter focused on picture books and their value in terms of children’s learning. It was outlined that picture books can be used in order to teach children about real animals and to encourage their word learning. At the same time, it was highlighted that the learning outcome is interwoven with some factors such as age and developmental stage. Still, the representation of the content and the illustration of the animals have a major impact on their analogical rea­soning and the ability to transfer that information to real animals.

The next chapter will be looking at how animal fiction influences children’s view on animals.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Impact of Anthropomorphic Animal Stories on Children's Learning
A psychological approach
University of Cologne
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
animal, anthropomorphic, children, impact, learning, stories
Quote paper
Yeganeh Khodaparast (Author), 2020, The Impact of Anthropomorphic Animal Stories on Children's Learning, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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