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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Barnyard Iconography

Sitting down with an agent from CAA yesterday the conversation turned, as all conversations must, to Olivia.  The Falconer pig, that is.  There was some speculation as to why Olivia is as popular as she is.  Her personality is certainly in the vein of Eloise, of course, albeit with better influences in her life.  But lots of characters are born every year with Eloise-like personalities.  What is it about Olivia that contributes to her staying power?  Well, might part of it have to do with the fact that she’s a pig?

Here’s my thinking.  Folks like animal icons.  They like to mention a species and have a single character pop into your head.  Now in the field of children’s literature when I say “pig” the first name most people think of is “Wilbur”.  So what if I say “girl pig”?  Well, unless Miss Piggy is your de facto feminine swine, Olivia is it.  Sure, Toot and Puddle had their day and Piggie from the Elephant and Piggie books will always occupy a place in my heart but for most folks Olivia has managed to become your layman’s go-to lady pork (Note to Self: Find a better description than “lady pork”).

It got me to thinking.  What are the other iconic animals out there?  If we’re playing the association game where I call out an animal and you say the first children’s literary character to come to mind, would your answers be the same as mine?  Let’s find out!  Here’s my take:

Cat: Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel.  That’s a surprise!  Harry Kitten from A Cricket in Times Square or Jenny and the Cat Club probably should have been the first to come to mind but I guess it’s a sign of the times that Bruel wins this round.

Dog: Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Hmmm.  Went kind of classic with this one.

Cow: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin.  Not really a single iconic cow here.  Single cows are a lot harder to think up than you’d think too.  Clearly there’s a gap in the marketplace here.

Bull: The Story of Ferdinand by Monroe Leaf. No bones about it.

Bear: Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.  No brainer (bear of very little brainer?) there.

Elephant: The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.  Because of the spats, I suppose.  I’m a sucker for spats.  We would have also have accepted Horton.

Monkey: Monkey With a Toolbelt by Chris Monroe.  Sorry, Curious George.  Maybe if you had a cool name like Chico Bon Bon I would have thought of you first.

Gorilla: Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.  Anthony Browne, you were my second choice.  Honest.

Duck: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  If, however, you just wanted a character named “Duck” then either Doreen Cronin’s hero from Duck for President (though I already nominated her cows so how fair is that?) or Duck on a Bike by David Shannon would come to mind.  Or maybe the duck from Tim Egan’s books.  Too bad it’s so crazy.

Mouse: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.  A close second: Every other Henkes book out there starring mice.

Hippos: George and Martha by James Marshall.  Quite possibly the world’s most perfect friends.

Badger: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. Badger from The Wind in the Willows runs a close second.

Toad: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  For lack of a badger.

Mole: See – Toad

Rabbit: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.  Other hares need not apply.

Donkey: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  Take THAT Shrek!

Pigeon: You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Not Lobel’s Toad? Blah, said Toad.

  2. Horse?

    For cat, I’m going to have to go with Scarry’s Huckle, if for no other reason than shortly after my son could speak, he began identifying himself as Huckle.

  3. Cat is clearly the Cat in the Hat. For Ducks I’d go with Gossie and Gertie. Chicken is obviously Minerva Louise.

    Since Curious George is technically not a monkey, you don’t have to apologize to him!

    While I easily give you Click, Clack, Moo for cows in general, if you’re looking for a specific individual Cow, I’d like to nominate the cow from Jan Thomas’s books.

  4. I can live with Toad from Wind in the Willows, but only if you add Frog from Lobel’s Frog and Toad books.

  5. Have to agree that much of Olivia’s success is her species!

    Lyle would be in there for the crocs!

  6. For Dinosaur, I immediately picture the little red fellow from Bob Shea’s books (what do you mean, “dinosaur” isn’t really a species?)

  7. Mark Flowers says:

    I have to disagree on Hippos – it’s got to be Sandra Boynton’s creation in BUT NOT THE HIPPOPOTAMUS.

  8. Spider: Charlotte

    Fish: Swimmy

  9. Cindy Ritter says:

    While I agree with you that Olivia’s success could be traced to the fact that she’s an animal, I did want to note that from my personal experience with a 4-year-old girl who absolutely loves Olivia, what draws her to the books is Olivia’s signature red dress. The little girl’s favorite color is red and therefore she became very fond of a children’s book character that always got to wear her favorite color. Have others noticed this fashion-focused response to Olivia at all? Or other children’s book characters?

  10. Dog: Dominic.

    Mouse: all Lobel’s mice, especially the seven little ones in bed.

    Duck: Jemina Puddle-Duck.

    Elephant: yes, Babar.

    Bear: Buzzati’s invaders of Sicily.

    Toad: of course Lobel’s.

    Frog: well…

    Rabbit: Peter.

    Pig: Bumble-Ardy.

    Cow: the one who jumped over the moon.

    Hippopotamus: George, with Martha close second. Or maybe Martha first.

    Monkey: Zephir.

    Cat: any one of those millions.

    Pigeon: Pinocchio’s.

    Whale: Boris, the friend of Amos’.

  11. Ahem, Chicken???

  12. P.S. still laughing over “lady pork.”

  13. Eric Carpenter says:

    Bear – Little Bear
    Cat – Ralph
    Chicken – Rosie
    Cow – Hendrika
    Crocodile – Lyle
    Dog – Dominic
    Donkey – Sylvester
    Duck – Egan’s Duck. Who might be the best character (animal or otherwise) in all of children’s lit.
    Elephant – Gerald
    Frog – Gorky
    Hippo – Martha
    Lion – Ponto
    Mouse – Bernard DeSoto, DDS
    Pig – Zeke Pippen
    Rabbit – Solomon (who can turn into a rusty nail)
    Rhino – the pet rhino from Jon Agee’s new book is incredible!
    Whale – Boris

  14. How did I forget Little Bear? I grew up with him.

  15. My Antipodean perspective means some more obscure associations
    Pig – Piglet
    Cat – Mog (from meg and mog)
    Dog – Hairy Mclairy
    Bull: Ferdinand
    Bear – Paddington and Winnie the Pooh are a close tie
    Elephant – mrs Large
    Monkey: ??
    Duck – Jemima Puddleduck
    Mouse – is just too damn hard -I collect mouse books! hunca munca? Ralph S. Mouse?
    Hippos – Hilda from Richard Scarry
    badger: Frances
    Toad – Toad from Frog and Toad
    Mole – The Little Mole (who knew it was none of his business)
    Rabbit – Miffy
    Donkey: Eeyore

    and I must add
    Chicken – Rosie
    Rat – That Pesky Rat (he’s who I first thought of for mouse!)
    Moose – Morris

  16. lisainberlin says:

    Kangaroo- Katy No-Pocket

  17. Bear – Bear from Bonnie Becker’s books
    Cat – Puss in Boots
    Chicken – the Little Red Hen
    Cow – I’m with Sergio: the one who jumped over the moon
    Dog – the Go, Dog. Go! dogs, especially the two in the hat dialogues
    Donkey – Sylvester
    Duck – I’d rather have the geese from Charlotte’s Web!
    Elephant – Gerald; I love him.
    Frog – The Frog Prince
    Hippo – Martha/George
    Lion – Pinkney’s from The Lion and the Mouse
    Mouse – Despereaux or the mouse from The Sugar Mouse Cake
    Pig – Three Little Pigs
    Rabbit – Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
    Rhino – Peter Sis’s (which book is that?)

  18. I tried to clear my mind and do this on myself. My sixth grade girls are coming in to the library this morning, and I’m curious to try it on them. I’ll let you know the results. But for now, here are mine:

    Cat: Cat in the Hat
    Dog: George (of Bark, George)
    Cow: Click Clack Moo
    Bull: Ferdinand
    Bear: Paddington
    Elephant: Babar
    Monkey: Curious George (He’s not a monkey? Then… the Caps for Sale monkeys)
    Gorilla: Goodnight Gorilla
    Duck: Duck for President
    Mouse: Library Mouse
    Hippos: George & Martha
    Badger: Wind in the Willows
    Toad: Frog & Toad (Lobel)
    Mole: Naked Mole Rat (ok, so he’s not actually a mole… so… Wind in the Willows)
    Rabbit: Peter Rabbit
    Donkey: Eeyore
    Pigeon: Mo Willems’
    Horse: ???
    Chicken: Chicken Little
    Lion: Library Lion
    She-Pig: Mercy Watson
    He-Pig: Wilbur

  19. The girls seemed to enjoy the exercise, but called out many movie and TV characters (Mickey, Simba, Tom and Jerry, etc). I asked them to think back to when they read more picture books and to tell me the first character that popped in their head. Obviously with a group of 15 girls, some species had more than one popular response.

    The sixth-graders list:
    Cat: Cat in the Hat
    Dog: Clifford
    Cow: The one that jumped over the moon
    Bull: Ferdinand
    Bear: Little Bear, Winnie, the Berenstein Bears
    Elephant: Jumbo/Dumbo, Horton
    Monkey: Curious George, 10 Little Monkeys
    Gorilla: ??
    Duck: The Ugly Duckling
    Mouse: Stuart Little, If you give a Mouse a Cookie, Mouse from the Witches
    Hippos: ??
    Badger: Wind in the Willows
    Toad: Frog and Toad
    Mole: Thumbelina, Frog and Toad
    Rabbit: The White Rabbit (Alice in Wonderland), Tortoise and the Hare, Peter Rabbit
    Donkey: Shrek (some have read the book)
    Pigeon: Cricket in Times Square
    Horse: Black Beauty
    Chicken: Chicken Little
    Lion: Lion and the Mouse, Library Lion
    Pig: Wilbur, Three Little Pigs

    Their additions to my list:
    Spider: Charlotte, Anansi (we read lots of folktales in my library)
    Panda: Stillwater

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I love the idea of using this as a classroom assignment! Maybe I’ll try it out with my Children’s Bookgroup today.

  20. Cat–Rotten Ralph
    Duck–Mrs. Mallard
    Cow–White Cow from HUNTING THE WHITE COW, Seymour/Halperin

  21. Slug: Victoria Chess and David Greenberg’s Slugs.

  22. One more mouse: Cynthia Voigt’s Young Fredle

    And let’s not forget goats: The three brothers Gruff!

  23. Definitely Frog and Toad need a mention (Lobel’s of course)
    And I totally agree with George and Martha: THE definition of hippos and great friends (well, Frog&Toad and Elephant&Piggy come awfully close in the best friends category)

    I thought of Cat in the Cat and the Hat first on that one, too.

    Bear: what about Corduroy? Nobody’s mentioned him. Granted, he’s stuffed, but still….