I have been an animal lover since I before I could walk. I would lug home giant books on zoology, marine biology and whatever else I could get my hands on and devour their contents, but as a fiction lover too, not all my animal books were weighty scientific tombs. Some of the ones that captivated my imagination were fiction books where animals played a starring role.
Today, I’m doing a round up of some of my favorites from my childhood. Maybe a few titles will bring back good memories, or even better, you’ll find a new favorite. Whether they are old favorites or new to you, be sure to share them with your animal-loving child. These books are for early to mid-elementary readers, depending on their reading level. Don’t be surprised, though, if after reading these your son or daughter starts asking for a horse, a dog or even a raccoon!
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
As a kid, I adored horses, and The Black Stallion was one of my all-time favorite stories about a horse. Written in 1941, this is a story about Alec Ramsey who first meets the Black, as the stallion is named, as he boards a ship returning from India. The Black belongs to a wealthy sheik but is wild and untameable. The boy and the horse become shipwrecked on a deserted desert island, and as they struggle to stay alive together, they form a lifelong bond that helps them both to survive. After his rescue, Alec is determined to stay with the Black, and he befriends retired horse trainer Henry Dailey. The two secretly train the Black to race. However, without a documented pedigree, the Black can only race as a mystery horse in a match race. The Black Stallion is the first of 20 books by Farley in the series that chronicles the life of the Black and his three offspring: his first colt, Satan; his second colt Bonfire, and his first filly, Black Minx. The series also introduces a second stallion named Flame in The Island Stallion that is considered the Black’s only equal. To be honest, The Island Stallion was probably a tie for me as far as favorites go. I think I read that book a dozen times, and it inspired me to write my own island adventure. Unfortunately, my version wasn’t very good and included such wonderful descriptors as panthers “bristling like pine cones.” lol
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Written at the end of the 19th century, Black Beauty is one of the first books to be told from the point of view of an animal. The story opens with Beauty growing up in a pleasant meadow and his time spent as a foal with his mother who advises him to behave well so he will be treated well. In the first part of the book, Beauty grows up and is sold to a horse lover, Squire Gordon who takes good care of him. He makes friends with the other horses there, Ginger, Merrylegs and Sir Oliver. This idyllic existence ends though when, in the second part of the book, he is sold to Earlshare Park. Life here is considerably harder. A riding accident ruins his knees, and he is sold several times until he ends up pulling a cab. When his cab driver owner gets sick, Beauty is once again passed through several hands before he ends up with his old groom from his first home. He ends his days peacefully. This book was one of my favorites because I felt like I was seeing the world from a horse’s viewpoint. It’s interesting to note that this book, at the time of its publication, captured the public’s attention and brought to light the mistreatment of animals. Of course, I was about 8 when I first read this book, and I had no idea it did all that. I just loved the story, and I’m sure your child will too!
Rascal by Sterling North
Written in 1963, Rascal is another book I can thank my Grandma Craig for introducing me to. Rascal is a memoir of Sterling North’s childhood pet raccoon. A boy’s paradise, the book is a glimpse of another era and features skunks, woodchucks, a crow named Poe and a 19-foot, half-finished canoe. So, when Sterling brings home a baby raccoon who he found abandoned in the woods, his absent-minded father doesn’t protest. Over the next year, Rascal and Sterling become best friends, enjoying a perfect year of adventures together back when kids could roam the woods all day without raising an eyebrow. It isn’t until the next spring, when Rascal grows up and is interested in more than just playing with Sterling, that Sterling realizes if he really loves Rascal he must let him go. This is a heartwarming memoir of a boy’s friendship with a wild animal and has not only won numerous awards but also become a beloved classic.
Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
When Danny saw the Irish setter, it was love at first sight for Red and Danny. Red is fast, strong, and smart. His noble character is all that we dream dogs should be. Soon the boy and dog are inseparable. The two go on many adventures, but their biggest and most dangerous challenge comes when they go up against a savage killer bear, Old Majesty. I loved this book and quickly devoured several of the subsequent books – Outlaw Red, Irish Red, and Son of Red. In fact, if you have a son or daughter who loves adventure stories that feature dogs with heart, Jim Kjelgaard is the author to check out. He wrote 40 novels during his short life (1910-1959), most of which feature dogs as the main protagonist, but there are other animals featured, as well. His most famous book though was Big Red which he wrote in 1945.
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I can’t remember who bought me this book, but I read it so much, the hardcover is all worn out. In Wind in the Willows we meet an interesting cast of characters including Mole, Ratty, Badger and cranky Toad. Written in 1908, this little group of friends has become the archetype of the eccentric, the foolish. and also of friendship. The friends’ misadventures in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars and their home in the Wild Wood will snag your child’s imagination. The little group still hold a place in my heart, even all these years later.