This essay explores anthropomorphism in contemporary children’s literature, books in which animals model racialized behaviors in order to promote racial resilience and “teach tolerance.” Unveiling the unintended consequences of invoking species difference as a form of racial abstraction, the essay contextualizes “multicultural” picture books that enlist animal surrogates within the “here and now” innovations of Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Bank Street Writers Lab and the animal stories of Margaret Wise Brown. In keeping with studies in developmental psychology that explain how children acquire and unlearn biases, the work engages two arenas: books that imagine the adoptive family as cross-species alliance and those that depict biodiversity as a visual metaphor for multiculturalism. In looking at the adult’s ventriloquism of imaginary figures for the imagined child, the essay explores the imperfect correspondence between pedagogic aims and fantastical form, the fissures that arise in turning to nonhuman figures to express adult anxieties over racial difference. Anthropomorphic animals reconcile the paradox of diversity at the millennium: envisioning democratic inclusion without invoking the divisiveness of US racial history.

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