Donna Jo Napoli, award-winning author of over 50 books, shares insight into how and why she writes stories with animals as main characters.

Much of life on earth, animals and plants, is in trouble right now, some species facing possible extinction.  Certainly life changes over time – it always has and it always will.  Change is a built-in feature of life.  As life forms change and as geological factors change, environments can become hostile to some life forms.  So many animals and plants have gone extinct in the past.  This is natural; this is how things work. 

But today some life on earth is threatened not because of natural changes in the world but because of human activities.  Human beings have taken up the stewardship of the world, but we haven’t done a very good job lately.  We need to do better.  And fast.

One thing I’ve noticed about people over my own lifetime is that when they know more about something or someone, they often care about it or them.  Familiarity can strengthen our sense of responsibility toward others.  If a friend is in trouble, we are more likely to reach out a helping hand.

This is one reason why I like to write stories with animal main characters.  I find out as much as I can about the animals and then I use that information to write scenes that help my readers get to know what the animals’ lives are truly like.  So my animals aren’t merely people in disguise – no, my frogs have frog concerns, my swans have swan habits, my warthogs face and offer typical warthog behavior.  Readers get to feel like the animals – they see the daily struggles, the threats, but also the joys and satisfactions.  They get to pretend like they are the animals while they’re reading the book – it’s a vicarious experience.  And my hope is that the familiarity they gain with each animal will make them look at these animals with care and want to reach out a helping hand.

My daughter Eva is a veterinarian, and together we wrote a book about bonobos: BOBBY THE BOLD.  Dial published it in 2006.  Bonobos are a lot like chimpanzees, and they live in the Congo.  They are the rarest great ape and the least familiar one to people.  They are marvelous creatures, very peaceable and intelligent.  And they are among the most endangered of the African primates because of loss of habitat and exploitation by humans.

Eva and I have also written a story called TAKE YOUR TIME, about a Galapagos tortoise.  It will come out with Henry Holt Publisher when the illustrator, Lita Judge, finishes it.  These friendly vegetarians are the world’s largest tortoises.  And they are endangered because people eat their eggs and kill them for their shells, and people are polluting their islands.

I hope you’ll look for all my animal books and pass them to others.  The more friends these animals make, the more hands there will be helping to stave off extinction.

Donna Jo Napoli has written dozens of award-winning books from picture books to YA, contemporary fiction to fantasy to historical novels, mathematics tales and science tales as well as books geared toward helping deaf people learn to read. Visit to learn more.

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