Picture Book Characters with a Passion for Fashion by Garry Parsons


Who Wants to be a Poodle - Lauren Child


Animal characters in children’s
books have long been wearing clothes, but some appear to a have a passion for
fashion unbounded.


Fabulous Frankie - Simon James Green and Garry Parsons

Having recently illustrated a book
where the central character has a penchant for fabulous attire, I have been taking
a closer look at what the animal characters on my bookshelf are currently
wearing and revisiting some old favourites whose clothing style still remains


Rupert The Bear - The Daily Express

Stories where
animals appear wearing humans’ clothes preoccupy most of my bookshelf, as they seem
to do in most children’s bookshops. This anthropomorphism is everywhere in our
lives and has a long history in literature.

Illustration from the Panchatantra

Aesop’s Fables by centuries,
is a well-established
literary device from
ancient times such as in the Panchatantra 
from India, in which anthropomorphized animals illustrate principles of life.

The Wolf and the Crane - Aesop

Many of the animal stereotypes we are
familiar with today originate from these texts and have an influence on what we
read today and the roles animal characters take on in our stories but these
weren’t aimed directly at children in the same way we recognise animal
characters in picture books today.

Before the
mid-eighteenth century, the notion of childhood, as we know it now, did not
exist. Children were dressed in adult clothes and their natural playful
curiosities were largely ignored, at least in literature, where illustrated
material for children was virtually non-existent. Later, as the middle class
developed and views about children changed, adults began catering to their
emotional needs, and animals with human characteristics began to appear in
children’s books.

Struwwelpeter, considered to be the first
children’s picture book that used anthropomorphism in illustrations (1845) is a
collection of moral tales that relate what might happen when children don’t heed the advice of parents, to
pretty disastrous consequences. Heinrich Hoffmann was a physician as well as
author and illustrator of the book and
created the stories for his son as a Christmas present.


In The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches, Harriet ignores the
warnings from the two cats not to play with matches which results in her
catching fire and being burned to ashes, just leaving a pair of shoes. The cats
in the illustrations are not yet wearing clothes but do use handkerchiefs to
dry their tears at Harriet’s demise.


In The Story of the Wild Huntsman, the hare steals the hunter's gun and spectacles and turns the gun on him until he falls down the well outside his house.

More anthropomorphic illustrations followed including
John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland in 1865 which of course
included the inimitable pocket watch carrying white rabbit in his plaid jacket
and in 1902 came Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and there is a clear resemblance
between the two.


Looking at these illustrations now, we can be forgiven
for having a nostalgic view of them because of their attire but the clothing that Potter’s characters are made to wear
are mainly for them to look socially acceptable for the time, rather than the
characters themselves having a desire for fashion.


However, The story of Barbar, the little elephant by Jean De Brunhoff, first
published in France in 1931 (English edition 1934), tells the story of an
elephant who discovers an attraction to tailored suits and fine footwear.
 The first story of Barbar depicts his life as
a young elephant who is tragically orphaned by a miserable hunter right at the
beginning of the book. The distraught Barbar flees from the hunter and finds
himself in a wealthy provincial town where his mind is taken off his tragedy by
his admiration of the clothes of the people who live there.


Everyone in the town appears to
share an enthusiasm for fashion including an old lady who helps Barbar out with a
place to stay and some spending money. Barbar purchases himself a smart green
suit, a lovely bowler hat, shoes and spats. How wonderfully smart he looks!


Barbar’s cousins, Arthur and Celeste,
find him in the city and help encourage him to return to the ‘Great Forest’
where, with his new found knowledge from the city, he becomes the new Elephant King
and marries his cousin Celeste in stylish wedding clothes picked out by a
dromedary with an uncanny eye for high fashion.

The attention to stylish clothing
perhaps reflects the fact that the original publisher of the books was 
Editions du Jardin des Modes, a French language
women's fashion magazine published monthly in France between 1922 and 1997
and owned by Condé-Nast. The Babar books were the first Condé-Nast publications not
specifically about fashion.

In contrast to Barbar, Mr. Tiger,
in Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, feels dissatisfied
with his formal dress and discovers that he feels more himself in a quadruped
stance than the adopted bipedalism of city life. His friends lose patience with
him and he leaves the city to reclaim his wildness. When he returns later, he
discovers other folk in his community are also feeling the urge to be
themselves and abandoning their need for clothing.


Clothing plays an important role
in the narratives of many picture books - 
Walter & the No-Need-To-Worry
Suit by Rachel Bright, Slug Needs A Hug from Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross and the Goat’s Coat by Tom Percival and  Christine Pym to name a few, but clothing also
gives the illustrator a chance to deepen the character they are depicting
through what they are wearing, or
wearing, as is the case for Kes Gray’s streaking Nuddy Ned.

Curious to find out why Sarah
McIntyre’s Grumpycorn wears a purple roll neck sweater, she told me…

“I decided Grumpycorn would wear a purple jumper
because we usually see unicorns looking very glamourous... I thought it would
be funnier if he was wearing his comfy at-home clothes. Also, he has a cosy
fire burning stove in his writing cottage, but it still might get a bit
drafty in a place that's on stilts over the water. He needs some woolly warmth.
And purple? Well, he has all the other rainbow colours in his main, except
purple, so purple completes the colour scheme!” In Sarah's sequel to Grumpycorn, Don't call me Grumpycorn, he has a purple space suit. "Purple is a big thing for Unicorn"

As an illustrator of animal
characters myself, I find there are always relevant reasons for adorning an
animal character with clothing or accessories, be they glasses for a Horse
Doctor or
a feather boa and glittering
hat for a dancing llama.

 As I mentioned at the beginning,
I have recently been illustrating the story of a character who’s desire is stand
out from the crowd and the only way he is sure he can do that is by being
fabulous. But for a flamingo in a lagoon full of fabulous flamingos, standing
out from the crowd is not an easy task, even when your wearing a sequin cloak inspired
by Kansai Yamamoto!



Thank you to Sarah McIntyre for answering my question about Grumpycorn. Sarah is a best selling writer and illustrator. See more of her work here@jabberworks

Garry Parsons is an illustrator of many children's books@ICanDrawDinos

For more picture book passion for fashion, Fabulous Frankie by Simon James Green and illustrated by Garry Parsons publishes 1st June from Scholastic. 

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