Sunday, November 6, 2011

Using Animals in Children's Literature

Keiko Kasza shares her illustrations at the OKI Children's Literature Conference
November 5, 2011
Thomas More College, Kentucky

When I took a Children's Literature class in college, we discussed the reasons that so many works include animals as characters instead of people. The major reason seemed to be that children can relate to animals in stories because animals are the only creatures lower than them on the power scale. Meaning, children often feel powerless, but are one level above the powerlessness of animals.

Author/illustrator Keiko Kasza offered three different reasons that she chooses to use animals as the characters in her picture books (The Wolf's Chicken Stew, My Lucky Day, A Mother for Choco, The Dog Who Cried Wolf, etc.). In her keynote address at the OKI Children's Literature Conference yesterday, she gave these three reasons:

1. They're cute and fun.
2. She says she can't draw humans as well as animals, and doesn't have to worry about figuring out
    body types and human characteristics.
3. Animals give her books universal appeal.

She may have been half-joking about the first two reasons, but was very deliberate about the third. Her books have been translated into more than 14 languages and are universally accepted. By using animals, she doesn't have to worry about depicting a certain race or culture in negative ways. She doesn't have to worry about balancing various cultures in her artwork in ways that she might need to with humans.

Plus, the animals give her artistry a sense of whimsy. Her characters are cute and fun, just as she says in her first point. The stories may feature animals, but they definitely center around issues that children may face. Her animals solve the problems themselves, empowering themselves in ways that children may learn from.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but the main reason to read her books is for the stories. They're fun and beautifully illustrated. They're everything that picture books for young children should be.

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