Childhood, Animals and Toys


Richard scarry
Why are parents and their young children so fascinated with animals?   That is the point of a nice, but possibly
overly complex, look at why animals are given so much prominence by adults when
nurturing their children.

The article “A Child’s Wild Kingdom,” written by John
Mooallem, appeared as an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday review
section.  Mr. Mooallem makes the
point that animals, in profusion, show up in pre-schools, children’s literature
and even ancient toys
(“…many of the oldest, prehistoric toys discovered
include animal-shaped rattles and little wooden crocodiles”).  Let me quote him as he describes his
daughter’s preschool:

It can be a little alarming
to step back and realize just how animal-centric the typical American preschool
classroom is.
Maybe the kids sing songs about baby belugas, or
construction-paper songbirds fly across the walls. Maybe newborn ducklings
nuzzle in an incubator in the corner. But the truth is, my daughter’s world has
overflowed with wild animals since it first came into focus. They’ve been plush
and whittled; knitted, batiked and bean-stuffed; embroidered into the ankles of
her socks or foraging on the pages of every storybook.

Lest we think it is just his experience of the world, he
cites a Purdue University child psychologist who reviewed 100 randomly chosen
children’s story books; only 11 did not include animals.
  He notes that what was common was for animals
not to act like animals but to act like humans. 
Anyone who has read Richard Scarry’s “The Early Bird” knows the
discomfort of seeing the “Father Bird” eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast
(Father Bird obviously would have fared well with the Donner Party).

The article engages in a vibrant discussion of society, pre-history,
parenting and brain development; even Freud has his moment.  I don’t dispute any of his arguments as to
why children and their parents are

fascinated by animals.

I think, however, that the simplest reason is that, when
the sharp teeth and nails are erased and the faces made rounder, they are just
plain cute and cuddly.  Furry, fluffy and
fuzzy make a tough world a whole lot softer.  After all, what nicer way is there to introduce a child to a sometimes scary world then by softening it by portraying its inhabitants as animals acting out serious adult roles.

Whatever the reason, it made me wonder why, if this is
the case, we have seen declines in the sales of plush animals over the last
decade or so
.  In fact, why aren’t we
seeing more animals on the action figure aisle, in games or activities?  Has the toy industry somehow gotten so
involved with princesses for girls and mayhem for boys that it has forgotten
the importance of animals in the lives of children? 
Maybe it’s time to take another look.


2 thoughts

  1. Great article, Richard! And excellent points, @nur diker. I especially like your insight regarding how children relate to animals. I have read that prior to developing a more advanced self-awareness, very young children relate more to animals than to other humans.

  2. Hi Richard, an interesting subject. As a toy designer & 3d modeler in animation sector, i can add some opinions, too. yes, the princess and mayhem concepts are there for kids to imitate the role models which are close to real life; girls desire to be princess, while boys love action(well, the opposite is possible too, i follow your gender stories in toy choice). However, the cute animals are to be presented as close friends to kids by their ‘fluffy, rounded,.. etc. design’, those toys are not to be imitated by kids to be a snake, tiger ‘in future’ like role playing of a mum, dad, princess, soldier..etc; but those animal toys are for kids to save(or be saved), assist, care about, have dialog like a friend, and as a result not be scared of the wild animals; to be encouraged..
    Furthermore, those cute animals(whether it is a real toy or a mascot of a digital game for kids) are “character designs” and most of time they are not considered with the aim of professionals because that character artist may not be a toy designer with a child-related background, but is a good illustrator who just loves such lines/forms to present the character more friendly, cute. The boss likes that cute form, too and produces the toy or game character… i mean there is not always a deep research in production 🙂

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