Create a talking animal

For hundreds of years, humans have told stories about animals. Some of these help us learn about pets or creatures who live in the wild. Others introduce animals who talk like humans, wear clothes, have magic powers, go on picnics or drive fast cars.

Imaginary animals

The Gruffalo, as far as scientists can tell, doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up animal, part warthog, part dinosaur, part bear, part who-knows-what, completely invented by the author and illustrator Axel Scheffler. At the beginning of the story, the mouse thinks he has invented the Gruffalo – but at the end of the book, he meets a real one!

painting of a mouse standing in front of the Gruffalo
Illustration for The Gruffalo © Axel Scheffler 1999. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

In The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Tiger invites himself into Sophie’s house where he promptly eats all the food in the cupboards and drinks all the water in the taps.

Illustration of a young girl embracing a large tiger as they stand in a kitcen
Illustration for The Tiger Who Came to Tea © By Judith Kerr. Finished illustrations copyright © Kerr-Kneale Productions Ltd 1968. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Have you ever met a toad who took the train and liked driving expensive cars, or a mole and a water vole who go on a boat picnic together?

Look at this medieval book, created in 1240. Can you spot anything unusual? Alongside tigers, rhinos and insects, the book includes made-up wild animals, like the unicorn.

Now it’s your turn

A brown mouse wearing a ornate pink dress and hat. She is holding a mirror in one paw.

Make some notes or draw sketches to build up ideas for your animal


Does your creature wear clothes?

Illustration of a hare lounging on the ground. A tortoise is in the background. The hare weard a blue shirt, black tie and yellow sweater vest.


Does it talk like a human?

Illustration of a black cat sitting on a chair


Does it growl, purr or bark like a house pet?

Illustration of an elephant in water. The elephant is straining away from a crocodile that has bitten its trunk


Does it roar, squeal or hiss like a jungle animal?

Illustration of a Large green monster holding up a fat ginger cat


Where does your creature go? Who does it meet?

If your creature came to your house what would you do? Would you offer it something to eat? Would you play a game together, such as hide and seek or Monopoly? Would you read it a story or play some music? What would you and the creature talk about?

Illustration of a tiger peering around a doorway.
Illustrations for The Tiger Who Came to Tea © By Judith Kerr. Finished illustrations copyright © Kerr-Kneale Productions Ltd 1968. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Does your creature live in a forest, in a jungle, on a moor or in a zoo? Perhaps it has a job. Does it work in a school, a supermarket, an old grey office or a library? Maybe it plays music in a hand orchestra or writes stories for children.

How does your creature make you feel? Is your creature terrifying, fascinating, revolting, boring or adorable? Perhaps it’s a mixture of all these things.

Does your creature have special powers? Can it see into the future or read people’s minds? Is it a book worm, an extraordinary poet or a brilliant chef?

The Gruffalo has purple prickles, a poisonous wart and knobbly knees. What kind of body does your creature have? How does its skin feel when you touch it? Does its physical characteristics reflect its personality?

preliminary sketch for the front cover of The Gruffalo
Illustration for The Gruffalo © Axel Scheffler 1999. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

What kind of personality does your creature have? Is it bubbly and bouncy, grumpy and scary, ridiculous and nonsensical, ridiculously knowledgeable or lonely and in need of a hug? 

Now it’s time to draw and write about your talking creature and let us know what it says. You could create a whole story or simply a beautiful illustration. Send your creations to learning@bl.uk or share them on Twitter @BL_Learning using #DiscoveringChildrensBooks, and together, we’ll create a magic zoo.

This activity includes text adapted by British Library Learning from Talking animals in children's books by Piers Torday.

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