Favorite classic animal characters?

Animal characters are a staple of children’s books. In fact, when I think of my Very Most Favorite characters in classic books, almost all of them are anthropomorphic. A quality that I love unique to animal characters is that they can be shown living grown-up, independent lives (sometimes it can be tricky to leave parents out of human children’s stories), and yet they can still have very child-like qualities. They are put in situations that are beyond their understanding, which brings a child-like point of view into that situation. Animal characters can be given the best and worst traits of both children and adults, but the innocence in them makes it all endearing to us.

FrogandToadFrog and Toad (Arnold Lobel):

“Frog,” said Toad, “let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
“We must stop eating!” cried Toad
as he ate another.



WinniethepoohWinnie-the-Pooh and friends (A.A. Milne):

“Pooh,” said Piglet reproachfully, “haven’t you been listening to what Rabbit was saying?”
“I listened, but I had a small piece of fluff in my ear. Could you say it again, please, Rabbit?”




MoleandRatRat and Mole (Kenneth Grahham):

“Well, well,’ said the Rat. “I suppose we ought to be moving. I wonder which of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?” He did not speak as if he was frightfully eager for the treat.
“Oh, please let me,” said the Mole. So, of course, the Rat let him.
Packing the basket was not quite such pleasant work as unpacking the basket. It never is.


It occurred to me, though, that these Very Most Favorite animal characters are all from chapter books. Picture books have a slightly more difficult task when it comes to character development, because of minimal text and page count, which means less space to flesh out personalities. I can understand why, once a strong picture book character is created, a series is bound to follow.

When trying to think of iconic anthropomorphic characters in picture books that I grew up with, I seem to be coming up blank. Now I’m on a mission to seek out those love-able animal characters from classic picture books. I’d love to hear from you:
What are YOUR Very Most Favorite animal characters from picture books?

I’ll compile a book list from the comments, seek out as many as I can find, and write a follow-up post about them in Part 2!
Thanks everyone!




Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at www.wheelerstudio.com


  1. Just off the top: Eloise, Madeline, Frances, Olivia, Harold, Max, Pigeon, Julius, Owen, Chrysanthemum, the Gruffalo (and Mouse!).

  2. I, too, was thinking of Frances books by Russell Hoban.

  3. Wow! Thanks for this post- Ratty and Mole are two of my favorite characters, and I love all of these books so so much. Simply wonderful! As for picture books, I’d recommend picking up Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie if you haven’t already- it does a fantastic job of character development in 32 pages 🙂 🙂

    ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE (not classics, but they will be!).
    SYVLESTER (and the Magic Pebble).
    It’s interesting to really think about which ones are favorite BOOKS versus which ones really have favorite CHARACTERS…

  5. Great choices so far! I adore the Frances books and everything by Beatrix Potter, although I would argue those are more storybooks since they make complete sense even without the wonderful art, so are more akin to the aforementioned chapter books. A recent anthropomorphic picture book pair that feels classic is Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton’s Bear and Mouse.

  6. Olivia, Maisy, and Angelina (Ballerina mouse)!

  7. Wonderful post, Eliza! How about Curious George? But you’re right, when I was trying to think “classic” and characters most that came to mind were early readers or chapter books. The Cat in the Hat?

  8. First off, let me say Bendemolena (also titled The cat who wore a pot on her head)! A lesser known but favorite book of mine from childhood. Others that come to mind: Ferdinand, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and also the Very Busy Spider, Olivia, Petunia, Harry the Dirty Dog (though that has people as well). Thanks for doing this, what a fun list!

  9. Also Crictor! and Lyle Lyle Crocodile!

  10. My son’s favorite from his childhood was Franklin the turtle. A favorite of mine is Horton of Horton Hears a Who.

  11. I love a lot of these books that have been mentioned, but when I think “classic” anthropomorphic picture book my mind goes to BABAR.

  12. They’re not classics (yet) but how about the Duck & Goose books by Tad Hills and all of the Bear books by Karma Wilson?
    Charlotte’s Web isn’t a picture book yet, but it deserves an honorable mention because of Wilbur and Charlotte. : )

  13. I immediately thought of Frances and Olivia, already mentioned here. Did someone mention Kevin Henkes’s wonderful mouse books (Lilly, Owen, Chrysanthemum, etc.)? Oh, and we also enjoyed the Baby Duck books when my son was young. And we loved Little Bear, but those were chapter books (sorry!). Thanks, Eliza–I haven’t done much anthropomorphizing in my books, but this has me thinking I should try it!

  14. I love Gloria in OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA.

  15. Put me down for Frederick and Cat in the Hat.

  16. Wow — thanks for commenting everyone! This is a great list already. A few had me slapping my head, going “D’oh! How could I forget that one?”, and many I haven’t seen yet, so it will be fun to seek them out and do another post with this list of characters. Fun!

  17. I love Martha from Martha Speaks because her mastery of speech follows the trajectory of a child learning to speak and learning what to say and not to say. I also agree with Kathy Doherty about Gloria from Officer Buckle and Gloria.

  18. Along with many others, Ferdinand has stood the test of time!

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