09 June 2010

The Anthropomorphism Challenge

Defined by Oxford 
New American Dictionary 
The Dad wants to know: What book comes to mind when you think about things that are not supposed to speak, but do?

Please use the following format for your commentTitle of Book, Author, and a little more about the anthropomorphic character in book.


  1. I'll jump in feet first with the observation that (I think) most of us grew up with anthropomorphic characters as friends: Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and gang; the animals in The Jungle Book by Kipling; enchanted and enchanting animals and trees and rocks in Fairy Tales -- couldn't we all go on? But probably the most endearing and delightful for me is Br'er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus Stories by Joel Chandler Harris. He is so-o-o-o clever and full of life. Even when he's apparently the victim, he somehow finds a way out of his dilemma, hops away happily, and learns a lesson -- at the same time having taught one.

  2. The Life of Pi
    Yann Martel

    Visualizing the young man on the lifeboat with the Tiger and the Oranguatan, thinking about his history as a zookeeper's son --the book made me feel like I was there in the boat, luckily I was not!

  3. “Nobody has ever heard an animal truly speak in human language, and yet in every literature in the world they speak a human language. It is so universal a convention that we hardly notice it.” Ursula K. Leguin

  4. Great question! There are so many to chose from but the one that popped up first is Watership Down by Richard Adams. I loved reading it when I was younger. It's a rather intense story considering the main characters are bunnies. I remember the portrayal of much of the human world as viewed by the rabbits (cars and farm machinery and the like) as being quite frightening. The rabbits were involved in a conflict and there were some intense battle scenes as well. Not what one would imagine from cute little bunnies nibbling clover in a meadow.

    One of my favorite things about the book (and this is now, not when I first read it years ago) is the use of the language that the rabbits have developed to describe and explain their world. It would have been so easy to write it in just "English" but that wouldn't have allowed for the difference in bunny perception of things like time and technology.

    I gave it to my son to read when he was in the 7th grade and I thought he might see some of the allegory. We had just finished Animal Farm so Watership Down seemed a likely choice. My daughter and I started reading it together just last month. So far, she's enjoying it but we haven't gotten to the scary parts yet.

    Ok, I have to put in a plug for a much gentler story here only because the Disney version has sullied it's beauty. If you haven't read the original story of 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, it's a must-read and one of my all time favorite books. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Dalmations, the kidnapping, the search and rescue of the puppies but Disney did nothing to retain the beauty of Dodie Smith's descriptive writing and the depth of her characters.

    One of my favorite parts of the book is when Pongo and Missus (the Disney version changed the two dogs names and left out a third mother dog,) are taken in by an old Scottish Terrier. They are brought in to a large drawing room and fed tea and toast in front of a roaring fire by the Scottie's elderly, blind master who believes the two dalmations are ghosts of dogs he had as a young boy. Reading that passage transported me into the drawing room and I could feel the warmth of the fire and taste the sweet tea and buttered toast made over the fire.

    It's such a lovely book to read aloud! You will never look at the Disney version the same again.

  5. I think the book that comes to my mind first is Redwall. I loved it as a child and read the whole series. :) Fantastic!

  6. Oh, Good Lord! Alice in Wonderland! Or does the Cheshire Cat just grin?? Seems to me he has a conversation with Alice used by Dick Bolles in What Color Is Your Parachute that her relates to job hunt - "if you don;t know where you going, any way is unlikely to get you there." And the mad hatter is a rabbit, no? GottaGO! I'm LATE! I'm LATE!

  7. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Huh. The word is getting caught up in my mouth too and am still trying to wrap my brain around the definition - but two books come to mind. Yep, immediately. Thanks for a great question.

    The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

    A lesser-known work by Dr. Seuss, but the most important. Who is the "Once-ler" and who is the "Lorax?" This children's book was written decades ago about caring for our environment. The book has been widely ignored, but is now so important...that it's accepted. In fact, it's going to be made into a movie soon. (Now how's that for a thumbs up?!) Please read this book. And Seuss is a genius.

    The Mezzanine by Nicolas Baker

    I'm not sure who the protagonist is, might be a boy, might be a girl. It's about a very detailed trip up an escalator and I love this work because it's the first time I was completely caught up in a seemingly ordinary book-reading moment, my eyeballs to words on a page and detail about a really ordinary subject something as mundane as riding up an escalator. (A very special thank you to my dear Uncle Dan for introducing me to this gifted writer.)

  8. Two books come to my mind when I hear this challenge.

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien is the story of a widowed field mouse who seeks the help of rescued laboratory rats to save her home from the farmer’s plow. Even in the anthropomorphic world, unsavory characters (rats) do exist! In this story, unlikely characters are uncannily clever and become heroes. I remember reading this story to (and seeing the movie with) my children and all of us cheering for the rats!

    The Three Pigs (no longer “little”) by David Wisner depicts the pigs wise beyond imagining and changes the outcome of the original story. The pigs become “real” and friends with a dragon from another fairy tale who wards off the offending fox.

    This new twist turns a once frightening story into one that the United Nations and the Middle East could learn from!

    And two thumbs up for the Lorax, Margie…

    Wonderful video Sisters! Anthropomorphism is a hard word to spell let alone pronounce!

  9. The Giving Tree
    by Shel Silverstein

    The Tree in this book is the quintessential mother figure giving absolutely everything to The Boy. Her branches reach out so sensitively to The Boy and we as readers know the depth of her love for him.

    Last night my 7 year old read the book aloud to me and we were both choked up. There are so many lessons in this deceptively simple story, and as I move through life I find myself connecting with different aspects.

  10. The Book Thief
    by Markus Zusak

    Death is the narrator. Following life in Nazi Germany. What more could I say?

    Well actually I could write a BOOK about this book, but instead I am re-reading it and will post again soon about this Young Adult Fiction --that is brilliant for adults too.

  11. I know there are others, but I too agree with Tracey; The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein from the very first read was such a surprise to imagine a tree thinking and feeling and loving so immensely...
    Every single time we read this book (and it's pretty often), I can see in my youngest nephew's eyes, the way his heart is touched in the knowing of what is happening between the boy and this ever-bountiful-tree... It is heartbreaking, always heartbreaking...

  12. The Beejum Book
    by Alice O. Howell

    Rabbits, bears --you name it-- they ALL walk, talk and dress like humans and drive buses and trains that can fly and run underwater.

    I love how Teak can to Beejumstan whenever she is frustrated she just goes there!!

    I recommend this to all ages, Mom, Dad and Little Sister liked it too!

  13. The Friend11:05 AM

    I forget what the stories are called, but they are the stories of how things came to be. For example how the elephant got his nose, how the snake got his rattele, ect. They are ways to explain the "un-explainable".

    by the way i'm going to check out The beejum book . it sounds fablous!

  14. Freddy the Pig series by Walter R Brooks

    I recommend them, I think I have read all of them! It's about a pig who writes poetry, who goes on trips with the farm and also is the president of the First Animal Bank!

    Poppy, Poppy and Rye, Poppy's Return, and Ragweed by Avi A whole bunch of woodland creatures, mostly mice, that go on adventures to other places. And they have a really good time together.

  15. I have never read David Sedaris before --listened to him on This American Life, but never read his writing, until yesterday.

    I began Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk --and it is hilarious --definitely one for adults, but I am only to the third story.

    It is a perfect balance to the long list of other books I am currently buried under...

  16. CUZ West7:41 PM

    Sedaris is one of my favorites. I'm sure you have heard him read "Holidays on Ice", if not we are heading into the perfect season for it. Also "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is more adult funny. I just finished "When you are Engulfed in Flames", not his best, darker than usual, but full of great Sedaris observations. Glad to hear you like "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunks" I will add it to my list.

  17. CUZ West7:54 PM

    As to the Dad's Question - 'Ferdinand the Bull' by Munro Leaf comes to mind. One of my favorite books. While there are only a few verbal exchanges. Ferdinand is personified as the one bull in Spain who would rather not fight, and is perfectly happy smelling the flowers.

  18. CUZ West7:32 PM

    'Charlotte's Web' by E.B. White portrays a whole barnyard of animals who speak, as well as an arachnid who can speak and spell.

  19. Time Cat
    by Lloyd Alexander

    It is anthropomorphic because Jason's cat Gareth can talk to him and Jason can understand. Some people say cats have nine lives, but they don't they can travel anytime, anywhere, any century to nine different lives according to the book (and I also think it is true!)

    I recommended this book to anyone who likes time travelling, learning about different cultures and of COURSE excitement!

  20. The Librarian10:04 PM

    I'll chime in with Cobweb Christmas (Shirley Climo).

    Tante has it all figured out..."Tante kept a donkey for riding and a goat for milk and cheese. She had a noisy rooster to wake her in the morning and a speckled hen to lay an egg for her breakfast" ...but little did she know that the spiders crowded her door on Christmas Eve calling in squeaky voices "Let us in!" so that they can see her beautiful tree. Guess who lets them in??