MG Leonard's Top Ten Animal Characters in Children's Books
At the heart of Beetle Boy is the special relationship between a boy, Darkus Cuttle, and a rhinoceros beetle, Baxter. The book tells the story of their mission to find Darkus’s father, who mysteriously disappears from inside a locked vault. Along the way they make incredible new friends and gather an army of beetles to help them with their cause.
I got the idea for the book when I realized I didn’t actually know that much about beetles and started to learn what amazing creatures they were. In all the books I had read, insects were usually the bad guys, portrayed as horrible things; however, the opposite is true. Beetles are beautiful and essential to the ecosystem of the planet. I used to be frightened of insects, but as I wrote my fear of insects melted away: yours might too if you read Beetle Boy! The book is an exciting, funny adventure, full of amazing beetles.
To celebrate the heroic exploits of Baxter, here are my top ten creatures in children’s books:
Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Eeyore is over 140 years old and still loved the world over. A curmudgeonly thinker, he holds a special place in my heart, and most people's, for his blunt truths and hilarious miserableness.
Mr Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
All the creatures in this story are wonderful characters, but Toad’s enthusiasm and narcissism are utterly delightful. He’s reckless, vain and has no respect for authority. You know there’s always fun to be had when Mr Toad’s around.
Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
Aslan is a talking lion and King of Narnia. He’s wise and magical and protector of the children who visit Narnia. He’s at once terrifyingly majestic and utterly huggable.
Squirrel Nutkin in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter
I love Beatrix Potter’s books, but my favourite as a child was Squirrel Nutkin because he is so naughty and then gets a frightening comeuppance.
The caterpillar from The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
I like to think the caterpillar teaches us that we can eat sausages and lollipops and still become beautiful butterflies.
The Gruffalo from The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The Gruffalo is a true creation of the imagination, terrifying and delightful!
Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Mr Fox is a clever trickster and a family man. He is driven to daring feats to feed his loved ones and we love him for both his cunning and his devotion to his family.
Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Lyra calls her daemon Pan, and he shapeshifts until he finally fixes as a red-gold pine marten when she becomes an adult. I longed for my own daemon after reading these books; mine would be an arctic wolf.
Joey the horse in War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Joey and Albert’s relationship is so beautiful and special. It was the inspiration for Darkus and Baxter when I was writing Beetle Boy.
Toothless, Hiccup’s dragon, from How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
In the books, Toothless isn’t a Blue Night Fury, but a green and red common or garden dragon. However, the amazing relationship between Hiccup and his dragon is just as powerful as those shared with more prestigious dragons. Plus, I’d love to be able to ride a dragon.