Tag: Animals Fiction

by Scott O'Dell

Bright Dawn is a young Inuit woman (called Eskimo in the book). Her family has recently moved from their native village by the ocean to a town further inland. Her father while out hunting had become stranded on the sea ice, almost lost his life and was traumatized by the incident. He couldn’t face the sea again, so the family uprooted. Bright Dawn is troubled by all this, but in town she finds an unexpected opportunity: to participate in the Iditarod with her sled dog team. The leader, Black Star, is part wolf. Her father never liked Black Star as well as the other dogs due to his willfullness and independent nature, but Bright Dawn finds that an asset in the grueling race. At the start she becomes off-and-on-again companion to another racer, an older man named Oteg. This man wants to camp with her, give her advice, tell her stories. She appreciates some of this, isn’t sure if she believes all the old stories, and then starts to feel like he’s holding her back. In the end, she has to follow her own decisions and trust in her lead dog. They face many dangerous obstacles (including encounters with a wolf pack, angry bull moose, terrifyingly bad weather, and treacherous ice). Bright Dawn really wants to win the race, but she doesn’t hesitate to stop and help others who need it on the way and to care for her dogs properly. I wouldn’t say she finds herself on the race, more that she grows into who she’s been all along. It’s nice to read details that mesh with others from stories I’ve read of Inuit in the past, or of sled-dog mushing. A lot of the traditional Inuit customs, and beliefs recounted by Oteg were ones I hadn’t heard of before. I also liked that at the very end of the story, Bright Dawn’s father has the opportunity to face his fears in order to help his daughter. That felt a little contrived, but not terribly. To me this story felt rather calm, probably due to the understated writing style, but I bet younger readers would find it exciting.

Rating: 3/5
134 pages, 1988

by Jean Craighead George

I was hoping to like this book better than its prequels and I did, but just barely. While it’s mostly from the viewpoint of the bird, there’s still plenty of storyline about people and conservation efforts in here. It would have been nice if the narrative had just focused on the peregrine falcon. Upon being released on the mountain, she struggles to feed herself, used to having a human partner to scare up game. Eventually she strikes up a loose hunting relationship with a half-feral dog (I really liked that part). She meets other wild birds- some attack her, others solicit her company. I never realized before that a wild falcon will take a new mate to help raise the chicks, if the parent of his brood suddenly dies! Frightful takes on this role as an adopted mother, but she doesn’t know how to feed and care for the chicks at first- instinct only nudges her so far. The way that was all written, without making the animals talk or appear too human, was pretty well done, I thought. But then there’s all the stuff about people. Frightful feels the urge to migrate, but is too attached to the area where Sam raised her, and the pull of his company. She roosts on a bridge that is to undergo construction, some local kids see her and start up protests to try and stop the bridge work. Sam himself gets involved in other ways, keeping hidden from everybody because he doesn’t want to get into trouble for “harboring an endangered species” again. So the kids get involved in environmental activism, Sam works hard to save the peregrine nest without being noticed, the bad guys who were illegally catching and selling birds of prey in the second book show up again, and the dog inadvertently helps out when conservation officers and police are tracking them down.The dog’s part made me laugh. But sadly, the book didn’t really engage me the way I’d like. Too much of it felt like a lecture stuffed into the characters’ conversations. Even the facts about the bird’s physiology and habits which interested me, felt a bit forced how they were presented. I don’t know if the younger readers this book is aimed at, would pick up on all that. Probably what feels like flat, somewhat uninteresting writing to me, would be just right for their reading level.

Rating: 3/5
255 pages, 1999

by Junji Itō

Graphic novel about everyday life with cats- written by a horror manga artist. I’m not familiar with his work at all, but I found this pretty funny regardless. It was kind of weird to me that the girlfriend’s eyes had no pupils in most of the pictures (creepy) and the guy would have terrified, bloodshot eyes or snarling mouth with super exaggerated facial expressions in many panels- but I chalk this up to manga style or the horror element. More than anything, this book reminded me of the What’s Michael books, with chuckles galore. So in this one, J-kun’s girlfriend is moving in with him, bringing her cat. It’s face horrifies J-kun (I guess because of the dark markings around the eyes?) and he’s not at all comfortable living with a cat. Then the girlfriend adopts a kitten, so now there’s awkwardness with the cats getting to know each other too. Mostly the storylines are about J-kun simply trying to figure out how cats work. He’s disgusted by the litterbox, frustrated that the cats won’t play with him (he swings the wand too hard), and jealous when the cats sleep with his girlfriend and spurn his attentions. The cats vie for who gets to be on top of the cat tower, try to steal fish off people’s plates, and one stubbornly attempts to break out of a window. There’s visits to the vet and disgust when the cat sneezes all over the floor- or worse, has an upset stomach. That page really made me cringe.

The artwork is great. The cats look so exactly like cats.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
124 pages, 2009

by Marian Rumsey

This boy’s father works fixing power lines in mountainous country in Idaho. There’s a forest fire, the men are up there making repairs and find an orphaned puma kitten. Man brings it home and they raise it in the family. At first of course the kitten is cute and playful, but when it gets bigger they can’t keep it in the house. Boy builds a shelter for it in the yard and takes it for walks on a chain, lets it loose to run beside his bicycle in the woods. He loves the young mountain lion Pepper, but when she reaches maturity they realize they can’t keep her. Friends are no longer allowed to come over and play- other parents worry the mountain lion will hurt somebody, even though she’s gentle and really friendly to people. Then an incident with somebody’s dog in town really brings things to a crisis. Town council demands they get rid of the mountain lion- she has to go into a zoo, live in a cage on an uncle’s property far away, or simply be euthanized. The boy can’t bear any of these options, so he runs away with Pepper into the forested mountains, determined to teach her to hunt so she can live free. He’s glad to get out into the wilderness, but then realizes he doesn’t have any idea how to teach a mountain lion to hunt . . .  This was a pretty good story. It actually had me on tenterhooks for a moment near the end. And the pencil illustrations by Ted Lewin are great, very lively and expressive.

Rating: 3/5
159 pages, 1973

by Phoebe Erickson

Another nice animal story, the kind that would have really appealed to me in as a kid (and I’m glad can still appreciate now). Wild horses are being round up by helicopter in a canyon area of Wyoming. A boy of the Arapahoe tribe who lives nearby with his family, watches from hiding and is appalled at how relentlessly the helicopter chases the terrified horses, many which fall aside broken-winded or collapse from exhaustion. It turns out the helicopter pilot chased the horses at the wrong moment, and people on the ground aren’t there to help corrall the horses (wayyy pre-cell-phone era!) so the boy subtly helps them escape the canyon. He finds a colt lying on the ground, its mother nearby dead. He takes the colt home and tries to raise it, names it Wildwing.

Things go well for a while but then Wildwing becomes listless and unwell. Going back to the wild herd, the boy finds a mare that has recently lost a foal, and manages to get the two to accept each other. He is broken-hearted at leaving his colt with the wild mare, but knows it has the best chance of recovery that way. Through the weeks and months that follow, he often goes into the brush canyons to re-encounter Wildwing and his adopted mother. The colt still recognizes him and being calm, encourages the mare to accept the boy’s presence too. Back home, the boy’s family has difficulties because the father traded their pinto horse for an unreliable car, and they move residences with the change of seasons each year so need good transportation.

While the parents are absent (father off doing who knows what- he seemed unreliable- and mother gone into town to sell some beadwork she made), the boy and his twin sister coax Wildwing and the mare to the house, hoping to tame the mare and have two horses for the family. They run into problems trying to feed the horses (no good grazing nearby) but then an accident on an adjacent road provides them with a windfall of hay and oats (long story short, a truck hauling it crashes, and the men don’t want to bother climbing down into the canyon gorge to retrieve the spilled load). The ending was kind of ambiguous- the family is making progress taming the mare, but then there’s a vague description of a wild buckskin stallion in the future- suggesting that Wildwing was eventually living free? or maybe just that his spirit always was free, I don’t know. It was nice, though.

I liked how the horses were described- their actions felt very real, down to the little things like body language gestures. The people were all interesting- the boy and his sister described as level-headed and relatively calm, with a serene mother and rather irresponsible father. There’s a grandfather in the story too, who refuses to learn or use any English. The others speak a mixture of English and their native language, they switch depending on the situation. The only characters who felt comical were the white men, portrayed as rather foolish and inept, and full of misconceptions about the Arapahoe- which the boy pointed out to them at one point. It felt very well-rounded.

Rating: 3/5
179 pages, 1959

by Arthur Catherall

A true-to-life kind of animal story, easy to read in one sitting. Seemed to me like the author knows animal behavior and the arctic region well. It’s about what happens to a young seal when abandoned by his mother at weaning time. After just sitting around wailing for a while, most of the seal pups gather together and travel to another area where fishing is plentiful. But the seal in this story gets left behind, trapped in an ice cave he hid in during a storm. An unexpected encounter with walrus and the Inuit people hunting them (called Eskimos in this older book) frees him from the ice cave, but then he meets other dangers. Has to avoid orcas, a polar bear, and another encounter with mankind. It’s really chance that saves the young seal from all these threats, some happy circumstances and a sudden act of benevolence by the people (who see the coincidental repeat encounters as a sign of something greater at work). In the end, the seal escapes back into the welcoming sea, where he is happy and relieved to finally meet up with the other seal pups. Nice little story with plenty of unexpected turns, depiction of arctic wildlife and their interactions, and a bit about Inuit culture (though I’m not sure how accurate that depiction is- I know the Inuit used skin boats and hunted walrus, the other finer details could be right or wrong).

Rating: 3/5
115 pages, 1964

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Lovely little book- my only complaint is exactly the same as the Merlin series– they needed to be longer! It’s about four kittens who are born to a city alley cat, with wings. No explanation why, the mother cat is just as confused as the reader but shrugs it off. She realizes the benefits when one of her kittens flies up in sudden panic to escape a dog. She gently but firmly teaches her kittens, and encourages them to use their wings to fly away and find a better life. So they do- they fly away to the countryside and make a new home in a forest. It’s very different from their old life. Not necessarily easier. They have to find food, are bothered by noisy fighting raccoons, upset the local bird population (who are outraged to meet cats that can fly!) and get seriously frightened by an owl who takes matters into her own talons. But then a child spots them in a clearing, and sets out food, hoping to see them again. It looks like the catwings might have a good future with a new, kind-hearted human friend.

Such a sweet story. With beautiful illustrations by S.D. Schindler (they reminded me of Mercer Mayer’s in the fine detail). I’m very disappointed my local library only has the first book of the series. Really want to get my hands on the rest, but I’m looking for the one that published all four books in a single volume. It just feels like I barely read the first few chapters here!

Also sad that my eleven-year-old is probably beyond the age that would appreciate this book, but I’m going to try and get her to read it anway.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
40 pages, 1988

by Terry Pratchett

I’m not very familiar with Terry Pratchett. I think I tried a few of his books way back in college years (had a roommate who was a fan) and the humor just felt tiresome to me. So this is the first one I’ve read completely, and I really enjoyed it, in spite of (or maybe because of) the dark tones.

Set in a fantasy world (Discworld- again, unfamiliar to me but that didn’t matter), this is kind of a Pied Piper retelling with a huge twist. The reader meets a gang of talking rats, teamed up with an ambitious cat (who can also talk) and a gentle-mannered boy who plays a pipe. They run a scam, infiltrating towns with their rats that appear to be causing a terrible infestation, then of course the boy piper offers his services, “leads” the rats away, and they share the spoils afterwards. Maurice the cat runs the whole thing (and seems to be the only one who really cares about the money, odd detail- had me wondering exactly why he was saving up for “retirement” ?) Much later in the story you get filled in on why Maurice and the rats can talk- because it’s obvious that most animals in this world don’t. So the group comes to a new town, gets ready to run their scam, and everything goes wrong. Something else is going on in this town, and the talking rats are in danger. The rats are trying their usual skills to deal with the situation, but it becomes more than they can handle. The cat at first just wants to get out of it all with his fur intact and perhaps money in his paws still, but has to decide at the end if he really cares more about the rats’ welfare. And the boy ends up in an unwelcomed partnership with a local girl who’s obsessed with storytelling- she wants every situation to follow some classic trope– she talks a lot and acts bossy but is surprised to find that the boy has some answers of his own in the end. Really funny how the girl’s character kept breaking the fourth wall in a way, commenting on particular aspects of telling stories while being in a story. The only character that didn’t really stand out to me much was Maurice for some reason. I was more intrigued by the talking rats and the dilemmas their intelligence presented them. All round a fun tale, with a lot to say about human nature, how awful we treat rats (the ones seen as vermin), compassion and fair play in the end.

I think I might just need to read some more Pratchett.

Borrowed from my teenager’s bookshelf.

Rating: 3/5
340 pages, 2001

by Michael Crichton

I still vividly remember seeing the movie of this for the first time, decades ago. Finally satisfied my curiosity to read the book. It wasn’t nearly as tense as I expected, probably because I already knew the storyline- only a few scenes were unfamiliar, or different from my memory. For example, when there’s a sick dinosaur in a field, I remember that being a triceratops in the movie. In the book, it’s a stegosaur. Just in case anybody reading this finds it unfamiliar, here’s a brief synopsis: scientists figure out how to extract ancient DNA from dinosaur blood in prehistoric mosquito innards, and use it to create living dinosaurs. Extremely far-fetched idea, even considering what I’ve read about scientists trying to recreate a mammoth (fetus grown inside a surrogate elephant), or the quagga from back-breeding zebras, and now what about re-assembling the DNA of a thylacine. Maybe possible?  Dinosaurs- no way.

But of course it’s fun to run with the idea, and that’s exactly what this author did. With a wealthy guy who has no proper sense of responsibility at the helm, who bought a private island and turned into a giant theme park of sorts, populated with fifteen different species of dinosaur. Not as they had existed eons ago in reality, but as close as they could get, with DNA “patched in” where segments were missing. I’d like to know more about how that was supposed to work, but a lot of things in this story are glossed over with one or two smart-sounding sentences and then the plot moves on quickly to danger and drama- exciting you know. Some people go to tour the island for an inspection, and sombody’s kids arrive there too for who knows what reason- and of course things go drastically wrong. Because of greed, and one computer nerd guy shutting down systems to smuggle out dinosaur embryos. And a tropical storm which causes further damage on top of the sabotage. Dinosaurs start running amok, getting into areas they were never supposed to, people are separated, kids in danger, the boy in the end is one who saves the day with his computer skills. Beyond me. I know a little about computer code, and even having it spelled out for me in the book, I didn’t get what he did.

Well, in the end quite a few people die (this author apparently has no qualms about killing off characters) and dinosaurs prove their behavior can be quite unexpected, which is delightfully interesting. The individual I found most intriuguing this time around- back when I watched the movie I just rolled my eyes at his rambling theories- but now I actually slowed down to inspect those ideas- was the brilliant, sarcastic mathematician who says all kinds of things about “chaos theory” and how randomness eventually overtakes any system, destroying attempts at predictability. My favorite quote in the book is from him: “We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.

What I found surprising, was how dated this story felt now. Startling that when all the computerized systems go down, nobody can call for support from the mainland- because there’s no cell phones of course. I was puzzled why they used motion-detecting cameras to track the dinosaurs on the island- why didn’t each individual animal wear a tracking device? and other places where the technology didn’t quite seem to be on par with their capabilities to re-create living prehistoric animals.

Oh well, it was darn fun. I just bashed out my immediate reaction on closing the last page, to the keyboard here. Could say a lot more about it later if anyone’s interested. Who out there has read the book? or wants to pick apart inconsistencies in the movie version with me? I’m looking for the sequel in the library database now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
448 pages, 1990

the Story of a Swan

by Jane and Paul Annixter

At least Trumpet of the Swan was fun. This one, just kinda dull. It’s juvenile fiction, a realistic portrayal of the life of swans. When the story opens, the parent swans are just arriving in the far north where they live on the tundra with countless other migratory birds, all there to raise families. The swans hatch five cygnets, main character turns out to be the largest male and the most successful, as most of his siblings one by one meet varied fates. Caught by a predatory bird, shot at by humans, etc. The young swans grow up, learn to fly and follow their parents on migration south when the time comes. The story shows how they live, seeking shelter and safe bodies of water to land on in their travels, what they eat, how they court when mating season comes around again. So many threats to the swans- skuas attack the young ones in the arctic, hunters accost them on their travels, and at one point a snake tried to drag a female underwater. Foxes always a threat. There are lovely and peaceful moments too, and incidents showing how dedicated the swans are to their flock and their mates, protecting and staying by each other. In the end, our young male has found a mate and raised his own young, takes over the flock to lead the new generation back south. I’m sure this book would have satisfied my desire to know more about animal behavior when I was a kid, but it just didn’t do much for me now. Even the scenes where the swans were attacked by predators failed to have much tension- just so matter-of-fact. Looks like the author has written similar books about a moose, a raccoon, sea otter, whale, and some others. But I’m not really sure if I want to look for any of them. This was a thrift store find for me.

Rating: 2/5
64 pages, 1973


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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