April is National Pet Month. It’s said that we’re a nation of pet lovers and judging by the response we got when we asked Warwickshire Libraries’ staff to recommend their favourite books featuring animals, we don’t doubt it! There are lots of fiction books featuring animals, either as main characters, as narrators or as key participants in their stories. There are just as many non-fiction books featuring wild animals, domesticated animals and the people who look after them.
Here are our reading recommendations for National Pet Month.
The Wisdom of Old Dogs: Lessons in life, love and friendship by Elli. H. Radinger
Once in a while, a book comes into your hands at just the right moment. This is one of those volumes. My best friend has just celebrated his 10th birthday (apparently 66 in human terms), so he is now older than I am and, like me, he is beginning to feel his age.
This is a satisfying book, full of pearls of wisdom and practical advice applicable to both pets and their human partners. There are many heart-warming stories and pictures of older dogs with faces full of character. Above all, the book comes with the injunction to live each day to the fullest, to enjoy the time that you have with your companion and not to fret about either the past or the future.
Elli, the author, left her work researching wolves in order to spend more time with her dog. She reassures me that I am not completely dotty when I adapt my life and routines to Shadow’s needs. Every time he stops to sniff and catch up on the news of the neighbourhood, I get a chance to slow down and smell Spring in the air.
Patrick is staying at his grandfather’s house with his mother while his musician father is away on tour. He longs for a dog to be his buddy. Ox, who has suffered at the hands of ‘bad people ‘ still firmly believes that somewhere there is an ‘awesome boy-his boy’. Maybe if the two get together, Oz will find his bark again and life will be perfect for both.
This moving story of friendship, support and communication made me both smile and shed a tear or two. In my little village alone, I know of cats, rabbits, hens and six puppies who have found forever homes in the past few months which makes this an especially appropriate read/listen at this time.
I was delighted to find this story as an audio book on Borrowbox. It is a wonderful tale about a rabbit who prefers making up poetry to either eating or sleeping and his friendship with a fellow poet.
The Rabbit Lullaby he composes is easy to learn and sing but be warned, the tune worms its way into your ear and stays all day! Request the board book as well and beginner readers will enjoy following the story and listening for the sound to turn the page. A gentle and fun read that is further enhanced by the wonderfully expressive voice of David Tennant.
Flush by Virgina Woolf
It’s the story of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings cocker spaniel, told through his own eyes. First published in 1933, it tells Flush’s story between 1840-54. Its direct inspiration was a new edition, in 1930, of the Brownings’ love letters in which Virginia Woolf said that’the figure of their dog made me laugh so I couldn’t resist making him a Life.’
It’s a very moving book. I loved it.
My Favourite Fictional Animals
I was big fan of Julia Donaldson’s books before I had a daughter. I now can recite most of them word for word, but my ultimate favourite is The Gruffalo.
Whilst I don’t know for certain what type of ‘animal’ the Gruffalo is (we just know that he has ‘knobbly knees’ and ‘turned out toes’ and ‘a poisonous wart on the end of his nose’) I absolutely love him.
Talking of amazing animals, we mustn’t forget the other star of this story – the mouse. This funny little creature is hilarious and deserves much more credit than he gets.
Charlotte’s Web was THE book of my childhood. Even just seeing the original cover now makes me happy. Whilst I was (and still am) a teeny bit scared of spiders, I put my fear aside when I picked up this wonderful novel, and I’m so glad that I did. If anyone is going to make me less scared of spiders, it is the fantastic character of Charlotte. She is brave, loyal, and smart.
And as for Wilbur? He is sweet, thoughtful and probably the kindest pig you will ever encounter in fiction (apart from Babe in The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith. He’s good too…)
I absolutely adore the unique friendship that Charlotte and Wilbur share (a spider and a pig!?) but it works so, so well.
Who doesn’t love a bit of Winnie the Pooh?
I can’t be alone with my love for this honey-eating, cuddle-giving, bear who always looks on the bright side of life.
The relationship he shares with his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood is enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. And don’t get me started on his friendship with Christopher Robin (*sniffs*)
I also love how he says ‘Oh Bother’ when he finds himself in a sticky situation (which usually involves honey and his determination to get said honey…)
Ok, so like Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, the Caterpillar in this story is technically an insect, but I do like to refer to this fuzzy little creature as my spirit animal. Why? Because of his love for cakes, lollipops, ice-cream and cheese, of course.
This is a book I remember so fondly from my own childhood and one which I always enjoy reading to my daughter (You have to go really fast on the ‘On Saturday he ate through one slice of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone…’ bit and tickle with each item of food the caterpillar consumes. It’s the rule.)
Another character whose fondness for afternoon tea reminds me of my own love of cake. I absolutely love the tiger in this classic by Judith Kerr.
Re-reading this as an adult, I am never quite sure how to interpret the tiger. Is he scary? Is he a good tiger? Why does he eat all the food in Sophie’s house? Why does he never come back?
Regardless of all my questions, you’ve got to admire the sheer audacity of a tiger who rocks up at someone’s house uninvited and eats all the food. Plus, it means Sophie and her family get to go out for dinner because there’s no food left in the cupboards, so it’s not all bad.
Anyone who owns a cat will surely be with me on this one. I always think that if I could read the thoughts of my cats then they would be pretty similar to those of Mog’s. Also, my cats can often be found doing silly things – another similarity. I’m sure they would do things like forget that had eaten their supper or forget that cats couldn’t fly…
Mog is one of those characters that you can’t help but love and her adventures are firm favourites on my bookshelf. I always enjoy reading about the mischief she gets up to, but also how she always ends up becoming a hero in the end.
Dewey – the small town library cat who touched the world by Viki Myron and Brett Witter
This book is about a tiny kitten found in a library drop box in the middle of winter in Iowa who becomes the library cat. It made me laugh, cry and hug my own cat tight (much to her disgust).
Cleo by Helen Brown
This is a real tearjerker but illustrates just how powerful the love of a pet can be in desperate times. ‘Cleo’ is an uplifting book about love, loss and redemption. It’s also a book about a small black feline who helped bring a family even closer together by sheer force of her cat personality
Having listened to, and really enjoyed ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, I was browsing BorrowBox for something else to listen to and stumbled across this. I am not really a doggy person – well actually, I’m a little bit scared of dogs, but needed something, thought why not and so was soon surprised to find myself really enjoying it.
Prince, the Labrador is the story teller, narrating about a short period in his life, and that of ‘his’ family. Labradors have a Labrador Pact, which Prince is striving hard to follow – he must protect and keep his family together at all costs.
But things start to unravel. Kate and Adam Hunter both appear to be on the verge of having affairs, while teenage parties and suicide attempts are keeping children Hal and Charlotte busy, and so eventually, Prince must break the Labrador pact and go to great lengths to protect and keep his family together.
Listening to this on BorrowBox, the “reader” hits the tone of the dog perfectly and it’s a pleasure to listen to. I very much enjoyed picking my way through Prince’s family’s tangled web via his thoughts and narrative.
This book follows 13-year-old Golden Retriever Cosmo as he tries to stop his family from breaking up, and look after his best friend, Max.
I loved reading this book. Cosmo is such a delightful character, and it was a change to see the family dynamic from such a different point of view. I am a big fan of children’s fiction, and this one was particularly charming.
Cosmo is absolutely a Good Boy!