A Menagerie of Animal Tales presents an exciting array of recent and historical editions of classic stories for children. The exhibition addresses a fundamental question: why are children’s books filled with animal figures? As you will see, animals express aspects of children’s emotional lives, reflecting deep feelings while also serving as proxies for various impulses, from mischief to curiosity to aggression. They also embody children’s basic needs, such as hunger, curiosity, and affection.

Animals offer powerful points of identification for child readers. Qualities associated with animals in these tales matched newly crystallizing definitions of youth in the period of Romanticism and after, recasting as heroic qualities formerly viewed as dangerous in the young: inquisitiveness, imagination, nonconformity, and rebelliousness. Goldilocks is a figure of domestic disruption. Puss in Boots uses his wiles to pilfer a fortune. The animal also came to function a figure for the child’s abject status; Andersen’s ugly duckling is a mirror for the outcast child who struggles to find his place in the world; the Bremen Town musicians are likewise rejected by society and come together to form an alternative community. The students of English 313 welcome you to the wilderness of the classic animal tale, where you will discover husbandly bears, eloquent mice, stalwart tortoises, dapper cats, grave-digging owls, and scheming goats. Enter if you dare!

--Lisa Makman, Department of English Language and Literature

Lisa Makman is a Lecture III and Internship Director for the department of English Language and Literature. She teaches English 313: Children's Literature and the Invention of Modern Childhood.