|Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net|
Even before I was the mother of an animal-obsessed child, I had a fondness for pets and wild creatures myself. When I was growing up, some of my very favorite books were about animals. I enjoyed realistic animal stories, and also the more fanciful ones, where animals could talk. Below are a few of the animal books that I read and loved in elementary school:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, with illustrations by Garth Williams, 1952, a 1953 Newbery Honors book... I remember my parents reading this to me when I was about five years old. I've read it several times since then, including out loud to my own children. This classic book -- about life, death, and friendship -- is beautifully written and filled with unforgettable characters.
Bambi by Felix Salten, 1923... (Yes, that Bambi -- but also, not that Bambi.) This is the book that inspired the Disney movie, but, as is usually the case, the book is so much more than the movie could ever hope to be.
I remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Allen, reading this book aloud to our class. She read books to us every day, and when she first announced she'd be reading this one, every boy and most of the girls in my class groaned loudly. Mrs Allen said something like, "I know what you're thinking, but just give it a chance." We did, and I'm pretty sure most of us ended up appreciating the book! Salten's rich language paints vivid images of life in the forest -- the deer and other wild creatures there, as well as those dangerous forest invaders, the hunters.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Story by Richard Bach, with photographs by Russell Munson, 1970... Mrs. Allen read this book to our 5th grade class, as well. The story of an outcast seagull who won't conform to the rest of his flock, this book is also about being true to one's self, loving others, and learning forgiveness.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, with illustrations by John Schoenherr, 1972, winner of the 1973 Newbery Medal... Mrs. Allen really was an awesome teacher -- she read us this book, too! The story of a young Eskimo girl who runs away from her arranged marriage and becomes lost in the bleak Alaskan tundra, this is a book of self-discovery. While Miyax (also known as Julie) struggles to survive by watching, then becoming part of a wolf family, she also struggles to find out who she is in the world.
As I mentioned, our class heard this in 5th grade. I re-read it again in 6th. In my mind, it is a middle grade novel, but online I have found it listed as fiction for young adults. There is some controversy over a scene between Miyax and her young husband, and I suspect that is why some people consider the book to be for older kids.
I remember seeing the 1963 Disney movie based on this book when I was young. (There was also a remake of the movie in 1993, "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey", which added dialogue between the animals. The pets do not talk in the book.) After seeing the first movie, I came across a copy of the book at a garage sale -- my mom bought it for me, and I eagerly read it. I recently re-read the book and found it entertaining once again! :)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, 1971, winner of the 1972 Newbery Award... Our elementary school librarian read this book to our class, probably in 4th or 5th grade. I'm currently reading it to my boys at bedtime, after re-reading it to myself. A brave mother mouse, Mrs. Frisby, would do anything to protect her young family -- even talk with an owl and ask the strange, mysterious rats in the rosebush for help. She ends up learning more about the world... and her family... than she'd ever dreamed possible.
Besides re-reading old favorites, I've also recently read some more contemporary middle grade fiction about animals. Here are two that I recommend:
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, 2000, a 2001 Newbery Honor book... I absolutely loved this book! Opal, a young girl who was abandoned by her mother years ago, moves to a new town with her father. She soon befriends a scruffy stray mutt at the grocery store, naming him Winn-Dixie. With the dog's help, Opal meets several unusual people around town, learning all about friendship and forgiveness.
Poppy by Avi, with illustrations by Brian Floca, 1995... This is a fun, engaging book about the adventures of a young mouse named Poppy. There are some similarities to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH -- it's another story of a mouse determined to save her family no matter what dangers she has to face -- but there are many differences between the two books as well. I especially enjoyed the touches of humor throughout this book.
Avi has created a whole Poppy series, including Ragweed, Poppy & Rye, Ereth's Birthday, Poppy's Return, and Poppy and Ereth. I have not read the others yet, but plan to check them out soon -- I'm interested to see what other adventures lie in store for this intrepid little heroine!
Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? Do you have other favorite animal books that you would recommend? I'd love to hear about them -- I am always looking for new stories to devour! :)