Growing Up With Anthropomorphism

Jenn Northington

Director, Editorial Operations

Jenn Northington has worked in the publishing industry wearing various hats since 2004, including bookseller and events director, and is currently Director of Editorial Operations at Riot New Media Group. You can hear her on the SFF Yeah! podcast nerding out about sci-fi and fantasy. When she’s not working, she’s most likely gardening, running, or (obviously) reading. Find her on Tumblr at jennIRL and Instagram at iamjennIRL.

In Growing Up With …, Jenn features picture books, middle reader, and teen books linked together by concept or theme.


Anthropomorphism: (noun) the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, object, or (for our purposes today) animal.

It is probably no surprise that so many lifelong readers grow up into people who narrate for their pets. (Don’t deny it, YOU KNOW YOU DO THIS.) After all, we’ve been exposed to the inner lives of animals from very early on. Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh, Martin the Warrior and Bambi, Fievel and Fiver, Charlotte and Jiminy Cricket, all face adventures above and beyond those of your average household pet — and rise to the occasion. These three favorites of mine are just the tip of the giant iceberg that is the subgenre of Animals in Children’s Fiction; I wish you lots of fuzzy joy in your further explorations!

Chu's DayChu’s Day, Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex

Ostensible Age Range: 4 – 8

Chu is a little panda with a mighty sneeze. So mighty, in fact, that he has to be prepared at all times with an aviator cap and goggles. And everyone around him better be on the lookout too. But all that diligence is exhausting, and no one can be on guard 24/7. So, of course, what happens when no one is paying attention? Gaiman and Rex are both favorites of mine, and the combination of their storytelling and artistic powers is nothing to sneeze at. (Wocka wocka!)




Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
Ostensible Age Range: 8 – 12

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse who not only can walk and talk, but has major problems. With a sick little one, an urgent need to relocate her family, and no husband to help, she’s got to find assistance and fast. Hyper-intelligent rats to the rescue! The rats of NIMH are not only brainiac superheroes of the animal kingdom, but were my first exposure to the concept of animal testing. So along with a great story, and the lesson learned that even the good guys need rescuing now and then, you get a nice dose of ethical consciousness.





Golden CompassThe Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Ostensible Age Range: 12 – 17

It’s easy to get caught up in all the controversy surrounding Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and forget how amazing an adventure story it really is, but I’m here to remind you. Skip all the rhetoric and let’s look at the story in the first book, shall we? We’ve got impish kid heroine Lyra Belacqua, blithely ignorant of her special talents and destiny; we’ve got daemons, which are basically the soul turned into the coolest talking animal companions you could ever dream of (think patronus dialed up to eleven); and you’ve got Iorek Byrnison, a giant warrior polar bear with a heart of gold. If I were talking to you in person, this is the point at which I start spluttering about how incredible the book is.