Astrosaurs. Cows In Action. Ninja Meerkats. Spy Dog. If you happen to be under nine, you’re spoiled for choice in the anthropomorphic literature department, with a range of sci-fi, adventure and action stories starring a whole zoo of creatures. There’s even alternate history: the Spartapuss series explores a feline Rome ruled by Emperor Catligula, while Beowuff, by the same author, applies the principle to doggy Vikings.
You may already have guessed that none of these works take themselves terribly seriously. Expect an onslaught of appalling animal-related puns and silly names (the leader of the Pigs in Planes rejoices in the name of Peter Porker, while the ranks of the Space Penguins include Fuzz Allgrin and Splash Gordon). The action usually revolves around a crack squad of heroic critters saving the day with their collective abilities.
Anthropomorphic animals in children’s stories are nothing new, of course; it’s a tradition going back as far as the Victorians and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The current crop is faster-paced and less subtle than the gentle, whimsical humour of classic children’s furry stories–less Wind in the Willows, more fart jokes–and aims at a slightly higher age bracket. Traditionally, talking animals who wear clothes and exhibit other human-style behaviours belong in the nursery, like old friends Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit. The new breed of furry books, although they could of course be read aloud by a kindly adult, are designed to be consumed autonomously by kids who are already blossoming as readers. Who has a nursery these days, anyway?
If you’re not a child yourself, have none of your own, and don’t work with children, this seething mass of furry lit has probably passed under your radar. Pity.
Admittedly the plots are simple and most of the jokes are obvious, as well as groanworthy. Grown-ups might prefer something more substantial (like a reading from Dr Seuss?), but there are still chuckles to be had, and the accompanying illustrations are cute enough to be enjoyed by the discriminating furry reader. After all, a childlike sense of joy and wonder is one of the most attractive aspects of our fandom. It’s fun, too, to spot the gags put in for the adult reader, or perhaps just for the author’s personal amusement: seven-year-olds are unlikely to know why titling a chapter “Biker Bears from Ma’s” is funny. I’ll cheerfully admit to laughing out loud in my local bookshop at the Ninja Meerkats’ encounter with the Delhi Llama (can you guess his species, and where he lives?).
So much for the adults, but what about the target market? The fact that so many of these series exist, and that they run to so many volumes (kids in this age group like to know what they’re getting, and to collect books in a series) suggests that they’re doing pretty well, and this can only be good news.
Although many come to the fandom through cartoons or artwork, literature like Watership Down, the Redwall novels and the Animorphs series can claim a share of the credit too. It may be a few years before we see the effect, if any, but it’s nice to imagine young fans creating their own original characters based on the world of Beowuff or the Astrosaurs–many a first fursona has been based on a beloved book or animated film, after all. If you have small people in your own family, or your friends have started to sprog, why not seize this opportunity to get the next generation pointed in the right direction?