In Praise of Animals!
The team here at Storytime loves a good animal story – and we’re not alone! Myths about talking beasts and ancient animal spirits can be found all around the world, and date back many thousands of years.
Fast-forward to the modern day, and we will find countless children’s books and animated films filled with cute creatures of all kinds. But what makes stories about animals so appealing?
It might be because we see ourselves reflected in them. Animal characters that behave like humans (the fancy word for this is anthropomorphic animals) are like us, but cute and cuddly at the same time. Animals can also represent our qualities, and many sides of ourselves – think of a courageous lion or a cunning fox.
And finally, they encourage us to look at the world from a different point of view, which is what all good stories do. If you read a story about a dolphin’s life, say, then you will learn to see things from a new and interesting perspective. Or perhaps a farm animal and their routine and habits, then you will see a life you could not have known otherwise.
But one thing we cannot forget to add, they are great fun! Humour is something animal tales have galore! As it happens, the latest issue of Storytime is chock-full of tales about animals of all kinds. Let’s have a look at the way they use creatures as characters…
Our cover star is Machali the Tigress, rendered in magnificent colours by Julia Cherednichenko. Machali was a real tiger who prowled through Rantahmbore National Park in India. She was famed for her fierceness and the many cubs she gave birth to! This tale attempts to portray her as she really was and gives a tiger’s eye view of the world. And what they would have said if they could talk! Hopefully, reading it will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of these unique and magnificent creatures.
The Lion’s Fears, on the other hand, is a classic fable, where animals represent aspects of ourselves and the story is intended to teach us a lesson. The lion is, of course, a brave and fierce individual… though he learns that everyone is scared of something. Alice Risi depicts the animals of the jungle in a bright and lively fashion that complements the tone of the story perfectly.
Animals can also be used to address important issues in an approachable way. A famous example, of course, is Animal Farm by George Orwell, which delivered a serious political message using animal characters. A Sky Full of Swallows also addresses a serious theme with a light touch.
After frolicking in a meadow, a group of young animals lie back and look at the clouds and say what they would most like to see when they look at the sky… and what terrible things might also come down out of the blue. Ana Pavlenko wrote this story, which is a parable about what is now happening in her home country of Ukraine, and it is very moving. By using gentle animal characters and avoiding specifics, she delivers her message in a powerful way. Carlotta Notaro provided the art, which perfectly combines whimsy and a gentle sense of melancholy.
Stories about mythical creatures tap into our fears of the wilderness and the unknown. These magical beasts have strange powers and punish interlopers but also have many animal characteristics to them. That’s certainly the case in The Baby Bunyip. As you may know, this creature from Indigenous Australian legends is supposed to dwell in billabongs (oxbow lakes) and can menace the unwary. Evelina Losich did a magnificent job of illustrating this tale about what happens when a boy decides to interfere with the creature’s natural habitat and take the baby away from it. The lesson is clear: show respect to nature – or else!
Stories can put animals into human situations for comedic effect, as is done in the short bedtime story Sports Day for Hans. You might remember Hans-my-Hedgehog from the fairy tale of the same name in issue 84, and in this story, he is taking part in a PE contest against his will! Though he is an animal, we can identify with his situation, and Karyne Kuy’s art makes it extra-fun.
The endearing The Mansion of the Cats also puts animals into an interesting situation to create a funny fairy tale. This Italian story stars a girl who becomes a maid to a house full of furry felines and they are all over the pages, and Silvia Maria Becerril Guillermo really brought them to life in great style.
Of course, sometimes animals have qualities that inspire us humans to do better! Fabio Mancini has a flair for historical art, and he used his talents to the full when illustrating The Spider in the Cave. It’s inspired by a Sir Walter Scott tale about the Scottish noble (and later king!) Robert the Bruce. When he was on the run from his enemies and about to give up, he sees a spider trying to spin a web – and not giving up! This is a wonderful and uplifting story about what animals can teach us. Historians might say it didn’t actually happen, but stories make us believe otherwise.
Sorry, animal fans, but not ALL of the stories in this issue feature animals! We have a little exception but for a great reason…it was too much fun to leave it out! Minnikin is a quirky fairy tale about a very young hero who rescues a princess with a little help from his flying ship. Paula Monise did a wonderful job capturing the wit and charm of Minnikin and his world in her illustrations – we’re sure you will love them.
We hope you enjoyed this tour through the menagerie of the month! Be sure to tell us which story you liked best when you get a chance to read them. This issue is loud and bold, and you might hear it roaring if you listen close enough… Brave readers, enjoy!