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Friday, September 11, 2015

Fiction for Animal Lovers

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Our family loves animals. You may have heard me say that my 16-year-old son Nick lives and breathes animals -- all day, every day. But the rest of us are fans of "all creatures great and small", too. We love our pets (a cockatiel, a leopard gecko, and two fire-bellied toads), we enjoy watching wildlife whenever we spend time outside, we visit zoos several times a year, and we all get excited whenever there's a bird or a squirrel at one of our backyard feeders. Are you an animal lover, too? If so, this post is for you!

Over the past few months, I have read several fictional books featuring animals. Some are realistic fiction and others are pure fantasy. A few of them are picture books and the rest are for older readers. I enjoyed all of these stories and am happy to share them with you here:

Picture books:

One Gorilla,
written and illustrated by Anthony Browne, 2012

This beautifully illustrated book counts primates, a different species on each page. I just love the vivid, lifelike pictures that make counting fun. This book wasn't around yet when my Nick was a toddler, but if it had been, I'm sure that we would've owned a copy and read through it daily!


Slow Loris,
written and illustrated by Alexis Deacon, 2002

Slow Loris is soooo sloooow. The people who come to the zoo -- and even the other animals -- all think that he is too boring. But Loris has a secret....

This story introduces readers to the slow loris, a real animal. It presents facts about the primate, but then offers a surprise and some very amusing illustrations of Loris, the fictional character. This is another book that Nick would've loved when he was younger.


written and illustrated by Ellie Sandall, 2010

This story begins with one bird on a branch, singing its unique song. On every page a new bird with a different song arrives. When a large bird with a very loud voice arrives, it clears the branch... with comic results.

While both the story and the colorful illustrations in this book made me smile, my favorite part was reading the birdsongs aloud. Who can resist calling, "Kitcha kitcha Kee kee kee," or answering "Urrah! Urrah! Rah rah ree."?


Middle grade books:

The Wind in the Willows,
written by Kenneth Grahame, 1908

A story of the friendship between a Rat, a Mole, a Badger, and a Toad, this book has been a favorite classic of many readers for over one hundred years now. 

When I was a girl, I remember watching Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, partly based on The Wind in the Willows. I also had a big book of Disney stories that included Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, based on the movie. But I never read the full text of The Wind in the Willows until recently. My son Ben received the book Return to the Willows (shown below) from his grandparents. He wanted me to read it out loud to him, but after some discussion, we decided to read Grahame's book first and then Kelly's.

Written in the language style from over a century ago, this book is not an easy read -- despite the fact that it is considered a children's story.  There were many times when I had to pause in my reading aloud to explain the meanings of words to Ben, words such as "imperiously", "contemptuous", or "reminiscence". Once we moved past that difficulty -- or, at least, got used to it -- we both found the tale enjoyable. Ben especially liked hearing about the absurd Mr. Toad and all the trouble he gets into throughout the book!


Return to the Willows,
written by Jacqueline Kelly
and illustrated by Clint Young, 2012

One hundred and four years after Grahame's The Wind in the Willows was published, Jacqueline Kelly wrote this sequel to the classic story. She brings back all four friends, along with many other characters from the first book, and a whole host of new adventures.

I believe that Kelly did a wonderful job matching the rich language and the "feel" of the original story. It is clear that she knows and loves that story, and she pays homage to it while creating something new. The story can, in fact, stand by itself -- one would not have to read The Wind in the Willows before reading this one. I am glad that we read both books, but I have to say that Ben and I actually preferred this book to the first. The story seemed to go a little faster and many of the situations that Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad encounter had us both laughing out loud. In addition, Young's illustrations throughout the book are delightful.


The Underneath,
written by Kathi Appelt,
with drawings by David Small, 2008

Deep in the woods, where the only human is a violent, scary man called Gar Face, a pregnant cat befriends a lonely chained-up hound dog. She soon gives birth to two kittens and the four animals become a family.  Their world is a dangerous one, however, and the cats must stay out of sight, in the Underneath of Gar Face's ramshackle house. If the man discovers them, he will use the felines as alligator bait....

Though this is a middle grade book, I do not recommend it for children under age 10 -- even older children or teens may be bothered by some of the darker scenes. I found the book a little confusing at first, because the point of view jumps around. The story also travels back in time, thousands of years ago, and there is a magical element to the story that I didn't understand at first. Ultimately, however, Appelt's poetic writing and her message about the power of love drew me in to the story.


Young adult books (these are also filed as middle grade books at my library):

written by Brian Jacques, 1986

Redwall Abbey, inhabited by a community of peace-loving mice, is suddenly under attack by Cluny the Scourge, the evil one-eyed rat. Matthias the mouse must learn to become a warrior and somehow save his friends and beloved home. 

There are 22 books in the Redwall series and this is the only one that I've read so far, but I'm hoping to try more of them in the future. I was first introduced to this book about ten years ago, when we were visiting family and my father-in-law read the first couple of chapters to my kiddos at bedtime. I kept meaning to get ahold of a copy so that we could finish the story, but that never happened. Finally, this summer, I checked it out of the library and read it. I liked the story, though I think I would've liked it even more as a child. I knew it would appeal to my 9-year-old son Ben, so once I'd finished it, I recommended it to him. Sure enough, he loved it and can't wait to read more!


The One and Only Ivan,
written by Katherine Applegate, 2011

Inspired by a true story, this fictional tale centers on Ivan, a gorilla who lives behind a glass wall at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He rarely thinks about his past life in the jungle, focusing instead on his friends Bob (a stray dog) and Stella (an elderly elephant) or on his finger paint artwork. But one day a baby elephant named Ruby arrives at the mall. Taken from her family, Ruby helps Ivan see their home, and his art, in a brand new way.

This is probably my favorite of the books in this post. I was drawn into it immediately and had to keep reading until I'd finished. I also shed a few tears before I was done. It is a touching, bittersweet story that has stayed with me long after turning the final page.


written by Kenneth Oppel, 1997

The first of a trilogy that includes the books Sunwing and Firewing, this is the story of Shade, the runt of his Silverwing bat colony. While migrating south for the winter, Shade is separated from the others and thrown off course during a storm. He encounters a host of other bats on his journey to find his colony -- but are they friends or enemies?

Throughout this fictional story, Oppel presents many real facts about bats, which is one of the reasons I liked the book. I also enjoyed the characters and the adventure aspect of the book. I have not yet read the rest of the trilogy, but I plan to!


written by Carl Hiaasen, 2002

Middle school Roy has just moved to Coconut Cove, FL and already he's being bullied. One day he notices a barefoot boy running past. Roy sees the boy more than once -- always barefoot, always running. As he sets out to discover who the boy is, Roy finds himself caught up in an effort to halt the construction of a chain restaurant that would destroy the colony of burrowing owls living on the site.

This was another favorite of mine -- Ben and Nick are both big fans of the book, too. It was a quick, humorous read that kept my interest throughout.


Where the Red Fern Grows,
written by Wilson Rawls, 1961

Young Billy's dream is to own a pair of coonhounds to take hunting with him, but his parents can't afford to buy one dog, let alone two. Billy goes to work doing odd jobs to earn the money himself and finally, after two long years, is able to buy a pair of pups. Old Dan and Little Ann turn out to be the best dogs a boy could ask for and Billy soon begins training them to hunt for raccoons.

I remember classmates of mine reading this classic when I was in elementary school, and in my early 20's I watched the 1974 film based on this story, but I'd never read the book myself until just last month. I have to admit that it was difficult for me to get into the story at first. In most cases, I am opposed to hunting and I did not like reading the passages that were strictly about that sport. (I felt sorry for the raccoons!) When I was finally able to get over that aspect of the story, however, I liked the rest of it. I especially appreciated Rawls's descriptive writing of the woods where Billy lives and hunts, and of the deep love that grows between the boy and his dogs.


Have you read any of the books above? If so, what did you think of them? What are some other books about animals that you suggest reading? I am always looking for new books to add to my to-read list!

If you are interested in more of my animal book recommendations, please check the following links:

Wild About Animals? (This post features non-fiction books.)

You can also click on "Wild Things" and "Not-So-Wild Things" in the Labels section on the right to find even more.

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