Author-illustrator Leslie Helakoski explores how animal books positively shape young readers

I write about nature indirectly. Most of my books are about animals. Granted, the animals usually talk and sometimes wear clothes but books with anthropomorphic animals have been around a long time for many reasons. Kids love books about animals. They relate early to other small beings in a household and graduate on to farm and wild animals. They like to touch animals different coats. And hopefully, they want to protect them as well.

Human behavior is complex but animal behavior is something that young kids grasp when very young. Cows say moo and eat grass and give milk. Chickens say pwock and make nests and lay eggs. Identifying animals and their sounds are one of the earliest skills we teach our kids. Whether we realize it or not, we are teaching our kids that animals have a place in this world by bringing attention to them and including them in stories and lessons.

Stories help kids connect with animals and see them compassionately. Children put themselves in the place of the animals and learn that animals want many of the things they themselves want. They want the chicken to find her coop or her mother. They want the bear to find food. They learn about life, about animal idiosyncracies, and about reading. They soon appreciate the early humor of putting an animal that lives in a barn into a pair of pink pantaloons.

Fiction and non-fiction are equally effective. A story about an alligator being tossed
around by a storm could create awareness that our wetlands need help. Even a silly story about a cow at the state fair can help a child treat an animal more humanely.

Aside from leaning about animal habitats and mannerisms, animal books are a gateway into many universal themes including conservation, pollution, food chains, tolerance, foreign policy, and global awareness.

If we keep showing children that animals have a place in this world, we are more likely to have adults that will protect them and the planet we all share.

Leslie Helakoski is a children’s author and illustrator, who knows how to make learning fun. Her award winning picture books include Woolbur, Fair Cow, Doggone Feet and the Big Chickens series. Leslie hold degrees in both advertising and illustration and lives in southern Michigan near Kalamazoo with her husband and three children. Visit her at


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