When Meow Becomes Hello: Talking Animal Stories and Children

cat-in-the-hatBy Adelaide Rohrssen

As a future teacher of young children, I know that talking animal stories are going to be a continuous part of my life and my students’ lives. Books like The Berenstain Bears or The Cat and The Hat are seen in schools across the country. But what is this literature communicating to our students? I interviewed five adults, aged 19 to 20, about their experiences with talking animal stories.

“While you don’t have to teach children a lot of behaviors, like you don’t have to teach them to sit and stuff like that, you still have to teach them right and wrong.”  -Jeff

Most participants had never considered the impact of these stories. When asked what th100-of-participantse goal was, most sat in silence. However, after more thought, a general consensus was found within the group: talking animal stories aim to teach morals and how children can fit into society. Books like Where the Wild Things Are may seem like simply a joyous adventure, but as Stephanie stated, “(The book says) children’s behaviors are innately wrong.” Teachers need a close eye to determine the underlying messages of these books.

One hurdle tberenstainbears_cropeachers may face with this literature is its intrinsic link with children.
Older students may think it is too childish. For example, all participants could list more picturebooks than any other type of literature. However, most believed older individuals could also read this literature. If a greater effort was made to include stories like Maus or Animal Farm, older students may feel more open to continuing this animal-human link later in life.

“For children, animals are just kind of figures that they can relate to more.”  – Stephanie

Download the project poster

This project was supported by the University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Image sources: Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain

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