From the time I learned to read, animals were my favorite subject. I devoured their stories–fiction and non–with a hunger that couldn’t be quenched. Discovering the library at my elementary school was like opening the door to Aladdin’s cave. I chewed through stacks of books per week: Aesop’s fables; classics like The Yearling, Rascal, and Old Yeller; the dog novels of Albert Payson Terhune; the wilderness tales of Ernest Thompson Seton.
Over 50 years later, that love of animal stories is undiminished. They remain my favorite topic, my boon companions. And so, this: a list of ten beloved animals books, in no particular order.
- King of the Wind (Marguerite Henry) – though I loved others of her books, this story of the Godolphin Arabian remains my favorite.
- A Wish for Wings that Work (Berkeley Breathed) – A gentle life-lesson delivered by two of my favorite people – Opus the Penguin and Santa Claus.
- The Snow Goose (Paul Gallico) – The Hallmark movie of the same name was my introduction to this story of crippled artist Philip Rhayader, orphan girl Fritha, and the bird they love. SPOILER ALERT: I recently learned that Gallico was made to change his original ending–wherein Rhayader and Fritha, now grown, fall in love and share a brief time together–because publishers felt that the reading public would oppose the notion of a deformed man united with a healthy woman. Such nonsense! (Oh, and for anyone interested, Gallico’s The Silent Miaow, Thomasina, and Jenny are also excellent.)
- The Catwings series (Ursula Le Guin) – a darling set of books with lovely illustrations about an alley cat who gives birth to a litter of kittens with wings.
- The Whales’ Song (Dyan Sheldon) – What first drew me to this story of little Lily’s communion with whales were Gary Blythe’s astounding illustrations. The story is an added bonus.
- The Book of the Dun Cow (Walter Wangerin) – The stirring tale of the rooster Chauntecleer and loyal companion Mundo Cani in their battle against the evil Cockatrice. One of my all-time-favorite books.
- The Incredible Journey (Sheila Burnford) – I have Disney to thank for first introducing me to this story–NOT with the most recent incarnation (which, I’m sorry, is an abomination)–but with their original movie in which the animals never speak because, thank God, they’ve no need to; they’re quite good actors without dialogue.
- Born Free (Joy Adamson) – Oh, how I wanted to grow up to be her! Who wouldn’t want to bottle-raise a lion cub, raise it to adulthood, and reintroduce it to the wild?
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary) – Adventurous Ralph the Mouse receives the gift of his dreams and ultimately saves the life of the boy who gave it to him.
- All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot) – by far the strongest book in the series, this story of the English veterinarian gave me hours of enjoyment and laugh-out-loud moments.
There are others books, of course–Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Doctor Rat, The Poky Little Puppy, Gorillas in the Mist–but I’d be here all day listing them. What are yours?