Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 18, 2022

To Anthropomorphize Or Not to Anthropomorphize


is always a good question by Mira Reisberg

These days, when you look at bookshelves in libraries and stores you’ll see tons of anthropomorphic children’s books with delightful and charming animal characters doing very human-like things like talking, walking upright, wearing clothes, although not always, dealing with problems and dilemmas, having fun,  etc. However, some editors are saying they need more of a balance with real children or realistic animals, and not just anthropomorphic animal characters.

So lets look first at why anthropomorphic characters are so popular and why’ve they been around for such a long time starting with Aesop‘s fables back in the 6th century BCE! These animals as characters teaching life lessons probably go back even further than Aesop‘s fables, which continue to be published in different forms and different retellings as either underlying themes or direct retelling of fables, because of their classic insights into human nature.

Making anthro kid’s books has both pros and cons.

The Pros

Anthropomorphic characters are:

  • Race neutral
  • Sometimes gender neutral
  • Can lighten heavy messages
  • Can be in dangerous situations without it being too scary
  • Don’t need parents
  • Kids love animal stories

Illustrators love illustrating anthropomorphic animal stories because we’re so much less picky in noticing inconsistencies with their features and proportions

Editors and agents are always looking for something fresh and new

So if you want to make anthropomorphic stories, if you can, use fresh protagonists with unusual characters rather than the classic bunny or kitty or mouse stories.

The Cons

  • Environmentalists worry that children will get a really distorted view of the natural world
  • Others worry that kids will be desensitized to how dangerous some animals really are
  • Editors want a balance of all types of children’s books
  • Some publishers don’t want to publish books with anthropomorphic characters

Now, if you love anthro animal characters, you might be wondering, how can I write stories with humans rather than animals that are just as satisfying?

First, address the reasons why anthropomorphizing characters is helpful in sensitive ways, e.g., bring parents in if you must (it’s better if you can get rid of them but if it’s a dangerous situation it helps to have them nearby), be inclusibe and create diversity, be sensitive with gender terminology, create equally charming and adorable characters through your language choices and your characters actions.

Years ago, Yuyi Morales did something really magical with her debut book Just a Minute, a trickster tale. She created her main character, Grandma Beetle and modeled it both metaphorically and physically after a round roly poly pill bug with the same qualities of patience, perseverance and persistence. This book proved to be a total winner and still sells well while continuing to delight children, despite being told many times that no one would ever publish a children’s book with death as a character.

Another thing you can do, is create a four-column document with the animal character on the far left, their traits and qualities in the next column, and then in the third column turn them into a human character with a name that’s perhaps related to your anthropomorphized character and then adapt the qualities from the second quality column and add those in the fourth column to lead your story with great unique characters.

You can do exactly the same with illustrations. I did this for a dummy of my own that I’m working on, where my characters were all anthropomorphic woodland animals. For the reasons described earlier, I very loosely converted my animals into human characters to make my dummy and submission more appealing to a particular publisher who doesn’t do anthropomorphic books. These are very rough and because it’s an Ashkenazi Jewish story, I didn’t give all the characters the same visual qualities of my animals. Still, I cannot tell you how much fun it was to do. Give it a try and see where it takes you.

Dr. Mira Reisberg has worked as a former acquiring editor & art director, literary agent, children’s literature professor, & as the Director of the Children’s Book Academy for many years. Her former students have published over 860 books & won every major children’s book award that she knows of. Her own books from long ago have sold over 600,000 copies, many of

She’s over-the-moon excited to be co-teaching at the upcoming online 2022 KidLit Palooza/Conference/LoveFest/Scholarship Fundraiser with panels of brilliant authors, illustrators, editors, agents, art directors, worksheets, handouts, hands-on activities, and submission opportunities right here:   Only $77 with the case-sensitive LowIncomeOrAussie promo code for two days and $45 more for a third day with tons of extra bonuses and fantastic optimized submissions. Wahoo!!!

Talk tomorrow,


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