A Menagerie of Animal Tales

Curated by Students of ENG 313: Children's Literature and the Invention of Modern Childhood | Winter 2020


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

History and Background

Modern conceptions of childhood have always hinged on the link between the child and the animal, and the genre of..

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

As the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is commonly told, a little girl enters the house of a..

The Bremen Town Musicians

A donkey, dog, cat, and rooster learn that they are no longer wanted on their farms and run away together. ..


In Puss-in-Boots, the miller’s youngest son receives a clever cat as his inheritance. The cat, Puss-in-Boots, uses his wits to..

The Death and Burial of Cock Robin

Taking the form of a series of questions and rhyming responses, the story tells of Cock Robin’s death and catalogs..

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

In The Three Billy Goats Gruff, three goats trick a troll in order to cross a bridge to find greener..

The Ugly Duckling

A mother duck’s hatchlings tease and ridicule the Ugly Duckling because he does not resemble them. The Ugly Duckling wanders..

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

The beautiful daughter of a poor man agrees to leave home with a great white bear so that her family..

The Lion and the Mouse

A lion allows a mouse to go free, and the mouse later repays the lion by freeing him from hunters’..

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

A Town Mouse visits a cousin in the country and disdains the Country Mouse’s lifestyle.  They both then visit the..

The Ant and the Grasshopper

During the summer, Ant works diligently to store up food while Grasshopper sings. In the winter, Grasshopper suffers from hunger..

The Tortoise and the Hare

Slow and steady Tortoise is mocked by swift, arrogant Hare and challenges Hare to a race.  Easily outpacing Tortoise early..