What’s your favourite animal?
From tigers and leopards to frogs and fleas, this ‘little book’ contains descriptions and pictures of 300 animals. The book also includes fabulous creatures such as unicorns and manticoras (a monster with the body of a lion, the head of a man, porcupine's quills, and the tail or sting of a scorpion). Even some of the real animals appear to be based on the illustrator’s imagination!
Did you know?
A Description of Three Hundred Animals is a natural history book for children that was created nearly 300 years ago. It is unusual for its time. Thomas Boreman, the publisher and probably author of this book, was one of the earliest publishers to produce books designed to entertain as well as educate children. In the early 18th century, most books for children had a religious purpose or were used for teaching, such as spelling books.
What can you see in these pages?
- Title page and facing illustration showing Adam in the Garden of Eden, given authority by God over all the animals. Can you spot the tiny snail?
- Pages 3–4, 5–6, 19–20: descriptions and illustrations of a panther, a leopard and a tiger; a ‘rhinocerot’ [rhinoceros] and a unicorn; the hyena, the manticora and an antelope
- Pages 212–13: illustrations of insects including the grasshopper, the spider, the hornet, the fly, the gnat, the wasp, the beetle, the dragonfly, the earwig and the ant. Boreman explains that he has run out of room to describe these creatures!
An early picture book
With its large number of animal illustrations, this book might be seen as an early example of a children’s picture book.
The also book continues a tradition established in the medieval period. Medieval bestiaries gathered together descriptions and pictures of animals, ranging from ordinary to imaginary creatures. In most bestiaries the descriptions contain Christian moral lessons. The bestiary also aimed to remind the reader of the link between God and the natural world, and of the superiority of humans to beasts.
- Article by:
- Piers Torday
- Animals that talk, Go deeper
Have you ever had tea with a tiger, or sat next to a talking toad on a train? Have you ever wondered why animals are so popular in children’s stories? Explore animal characters from Aesop’s fables to War Horse.
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Childhood and children's literature, Reading and print culture
Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.
- Article by:
- Julian Walker
- Romanticism, Childhood and children's literature
Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.