Tag: Animals Fiction

by Louis Nowra

1800’s Australia. Two young girls who are barely friends, get stranded in the wilderness. They’re on a river jaunt with one set of parents when a storm comes up, the boat capsizes and they’re lost in the ensuing flood. They survive because a thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, that recently lost its own pups finds them on the riverbank and adopts them. At first just fighting to stay alive, survive the elements and avoid starvation, the girls slowly adapt to life in the wild. They learn to hunt with the thylacine, eat raw meat, and communicate with growls and body language instead of words. Terrified of their adopted parents getting shot, they avoid the few people they see. But the other girl’s father never gave up searching for them. Years later he finds them and drags them back to civilization. Tries to bathe them, make them wear clothes and sit at a table again, to speak in words. They have to be tied up because keep attempting to escape back into the forest. Until one is forced to go to school and the other ends up on a ship at sea- so oddly enough, the final part of the book involves a lot about whale hunting. The two girls never shake the close bond they formed when living in the forest and long to be together again. Warning: this does not have a happy ending.

This book is rough and stark. Not only because the language is broken (narrated by one of the girls who lost her use of language while living in the forest and struggled to regain speech) and some of the Australian terms unfamiliar- but also because there’s lots of blood and violence. The girls thrilling to the hunt, delighting in killing and eating other animals. Their behavior- especially when brought back to a tidy house- described as very uncouth and fierce. Bounty hunters and other humans shooting any thylacine they can, in retaliation for loosing sheep. Not to mention the descriptions of whales being butchered.

And yet I read it through in just a few sittings, gripped by the story. I wanted to like it a lot better, though. Many parts were rather unbelievable- even in the realm of fiction- the thylacine dragging them away from the river waters, for example (I found the way Ben was adopted by a badger in Incident at Hawk’s Hill much more plausible). And so much of the story felt like a retelling of Amala and Kamala from India, just in a different setting. Feral children raised by thylacine instead of wolves.

Rating: 3/5
232 pages, 2012

More opinions: Farm Lane Books Blog
anyone else?

by Thornton W. Burgess

This little book is about a family of quail, or bobwhites. The pair move to live near Peter Rabbit, are quite friendly but refuse to tell him where their nest is hidden. Of course Peter is nosy and keeps trying to find it- so do Reddy Fox, a hawk and the skunk. Peter means no harm, but the others would eat the eggs or chicks, so Bob White stoutly refuses to give up his secret. His wife cleverly hides the nest right next to a path the predators frequently travel on, betting they will never look in a place so close to danger. Mr. Bob White makes himself visible far from the nest, so the others are always looking in that area instead. (Funnily enough, this reminded me acutely of the two women who escaped in the last book I read, how they hid in the last place anyone would think to look). Pretty soon the quail eggs hatch, and the mother leads her chicks to places where they can find seed and insects to eat. Peter admires their thoroughness in cleaning the briar patch of creeping things. Later, the bobwhite family moves into fields and the nearby garden, where Farmer Brown’s boy observes them. He finds out quickly enough that his garden is flourishing this year (while the neighbors’ gardens are overrun with pests) because the quail family eats so many insects. He even does math and comes up with some impressive numbers. So happy to have the birds helping, that he tries to protect them against hunters. One hunter laughs at the boy, thinking he’s just being tender-hearted at rescuing an injured bird, but the farmer’s boy indignantly points out that the birds are a main reason his garden is so productive, and he’d be a fool to kill and eat them after that. I wasn’t expecting this slim little book to include details on the life habits of quail and how beneficial they are in the ecosystem, eating numerous small insects (beneficial if you’re growing a garden that is). As I’m just starting to plan out this year’s garden, it brought to mind all the birds I’ve seen visit my own garden, and I remembered many fond quiet moments watching them methodically search the beds for insects (my personal favorite is the grey catbird).

Rating: 3/5
117 pages, 1919

by Ursula Murray Husted

My ten-year-old and I both liked this one a lot. It is a very touching story about two young cats who live on an island in Malta (the seaside setting made me think of The Cats of Lamu). Betto is content with their lot- sleeping under a fisherman’s boat and eating fish scraps on the docks. But Cilla wants more in life- a comfortable home with humans perhaps. Another cat tells her about the quiet garden, from an old kitten tale, where humans are always kind and food is plentiful. Cilla is determined to find the garden. Betto doesn’t believe it exists but goes along to make sure his friend is safe. Their journey takes them far from home, through many encounters. They navigate the streets, jump on a bus, ride a ferryboat, have a mishap on the sea, and meet several cats who give them directions. One particularly speaks in obscure riddles. When Cilla finally locates what they think is the quiet garden, it isn’t exactly the paradise they were hoping to find. A poodle tells them a story suggesting they shouldn’t be in want of anything at all. Later when the cats are discouraged and confused, hiding from the rain and feeling their quest failed, they comfort themselves by telling their own story to each other- a story of friendship above all.

I won’t tell you the ending- I did find it satisfying whereas others might think the narrative just went nowhere. But this book is philosophical more than anything else. It’s a story within a story, it’s about finding out what’s important in life. It has nods to The Little Prince and delightfully, pictorial homage to many famous works of art. Sometimes these are in the background as the cats journey through their world, on other pages the cats are actually walking through the art- a tropical fantasy painted by Rousseau, the Bayeux tapestry, ancient tiles from Persia, cave paintings from Lascaux etc- many I recognized, some I did not. On certain pages the artwork depicted seemed to fit what was happening in the cats’ story, but other times it appeared to be a random choice, so I just shrugged and went with it. The author explained in the back which artworks she had chosen to depict, which I appreciated reading. Her own style- well, let’s just say sometimes I thought it looked a bit rushed with awkward lines or poses- occasionally the drawings even appeared childish, but it started to grow on me. They’re certainly very expressive and lively, and there’s lots of detail in the surroundings. Mostly I just really liked the story about the cats, their little arguments, observations on humans, and earnestness in their quest to find what ‘home’ means.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
182 pages, 2020

by Federico Bertolucci

Like the other Love books by Bertolucci and Frédéric Brrémaud, this graphic novel is a wordless story about survival. In dinosaur times. The main character is a very small, feathered dinosaur that runs around underfoot trying to avoid trouble and find food, though the cover depicts another aspect of the book: its violence. One page shows a pterosaur getting dashed against a rock by a much larger dinosaur- its flockmates approach with looks of concern, then something appears to snap in their expressions, and the next minute they’re eating- literally ripping the guts out of their former companion. There is, of course, also a battle between tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops- seems to be a given for any dinosaur story. But also scenes of caring- a mother t-rex protecting her young and providing them with food. Mostly it’s the little bambiraptor (yes, that’s the real species name) scurrying about, catching small mammals and slugs to eat, avoiding getting crushed by bigger animals. It shelters a lot under a certain long-necked dinosaur, evading predators by literally putting the big one between itself and danger. Many of the encounters between different species will veer off for a page or two- showing what happens to other animals the bambiraptor briefly interacted with. But it always comes back to this spunky little feathered dinosaur. The final pages show doom coming- various dinosaurs looking up in baffled surprise as fiery meteors start raining down from a clouded sky and a comet blazes over. Actually, the final pages are sketches and drawings of various dinosaur species- a good fourth of the book is the sketchbook pages. Which I didn’t mind at all, I really like the way Bertolucci draws animals. Not a complex storyline, but very compelling to look at regardless- the artwork is so stunning.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
80 pages, 2017

More opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
anyone else?

by Lucy Knisley

Another kid’s graphic novel I picked up off my daughter’s library pile. (I’m actually reading a nonfiction book right now, Pet Nation– but keep putting it aside for something else in between chapters!) This one is about Jen, whose parents have recently divorced. She and her mom move to the country, where she has to tolerate her mom’s new boyfriend, and share her room with his two daughters when they visit on weekends. The oldest Andrea (Andy) is her age, the other girl is younger. They have trouble getting along at first. Andy is smart, brags about her good grades, and is kinda bossy. Jen likes drawing pictures and struggles with math. But she knows a lot about animals, and it’s annoying (to me the reader as well!) when Andy insists she’s right about animal facts (chickens, frogs, snakes) when she’s obviously not. I liked all the details about life on their farm- Jen has to do chores taking care of the chickens, loves hanging out with the barn kittens in the empty hayloft (her secret space) and trying to catch frogs in the pond (though this incident turns into a fight with Andy). Her mom struggles to keep a garden going while the pesky deer keep eating parts of it. A big part of the story is their farm stand at the local market, though. Jen has trouble making change for customers when her mom steps away. Her frustration and shame are very palpable- and heightened when Andy flippantly takes over the task and the adults point out she needs to practice her math skills more. I was really gritting my teeth at the attitude of Andy’s dad! Didn’t like him at all. However by the end, Andy and Jen have found some common ground and companionship, and Jen’s proved herself to have another skill set useful at the farm stand as well. Apparently this book is part of a series about the Peapod Farm. I look forward reading the next one!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
218 pages, 2020

More opinions:
Waking Brain Cells
anyone else?

translated by Mercer Cook

by Djibi Thiam

A story from Guinea, set in a small village called Koundjea. The protagonist is a man named Bamou, who lives with his wife and young son in a hut. One night a leopard kills their dog, right outside the door. Next morning the man tracks it, confirming the predator’s identity and locating where it is hiding- in a sacred part of the forest. The people are deeply troubled, as the leopard is their tribal totem, they believe the animal is supposed to protect them. Never had conflict with one before. This particular leopard appears to be injured and soon they hear of a hunting party from another village seeking the leopard, that it’s been killing people. Bamou knows the leopard is a serious threat and must be dealt with immediately, but he also feels compelled to treat it with the utmost dignity and respect, because of their tribe’s reverence for the animal. He meets with a village elder for advice, performs sacrifices to appease the gods and spirits, then drinks tea with a special herbal concoction to keep him alert. Then tracks the leopard down. Alone.

Reading this book was an odd disconnect. The style of it reminded me very much of Things Fall Apart (which I read long ago in high school)- simple words and plain sentences, which belie the actual depth of the story. I liked the glimpse into everyday lives in this small settlement deep in the bush, the people’s deeply held superstitions and beliefs, their formalities and kindnesses, supporting each other. The role of the blacksmith was particularly interesting. It’s full of details on the natural surroundings and wildlife Bamou encounters as he follows the leopard- keenly aware of all the animals, their usual habits, what their behavior tells him, and what the leopard herself is doing. A lot of the narrative is the main character talking as if musing to himself or relating what happened to a listener. I found it a bit difficult to connect with, as if I read it all at arm’s length, interested but unable to really sink into it. Bamou does face the leopard in the end, armed with several weapons- including poison-tipped arrows which he doesn’t use, thinking this isn’t fair to the animal! though he well knows the leopard holds the advantage in speed and strength, even with her injury. This book reminded me a lot of The White Puma, and I also kept thinking of The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, comparing the two different leopard encounters in my mind, with their contrasting hunting styles and attitudes of men, towards this dangerous and beautiful predator.

Borrowed from a person I know.

Rating: 3/5
205 pages, 1980

by Nancy Caffrey

Twin siblings care for an older horse that was taken from an abusive owner. They’re from a very horsey family- I gather the book is part of a series about these kids because not much information or background is given there’s just a lot of things it’s assumed the reader will know. That the kids have a handful of show ponies, the parents are both competitive riders, etc. Anyway, the children are put in charge of this old horse. They name him Charlie and under a veterinarian’s guidance, carefully nurse him back to health- dosing him with medicine, gradually exercising him, until he’s able to be ridden. Then they find out he’s terrified of approaching a simple jump in an exercise ring, but later discover he’ll readily jump natural obstacles out on trail rides. They grow very fond of Charlie and imagine he must have a distinguished history (before the abusive owner).

Soon after there’s a prestigious Hunt Trial, that uses teams (I don’t know much about this kind of thing). One of the horses goes lame and they’d have to withdraw, but the team owner has heard about Charlie and he’s a perfect color match to the other horses (I guess this is important). The parents are reluctant because the competition is rigorous, but finally they agree, and then it turns out the rider doesn’t want to be on a strange horse, so they let one of the kids go! He’s supposed to stop if the horse shows signs of strain, but doesn’t want to disappoint the team so continues even though it’s too much. The horse finishes the competition but has overdone it, so then he has another long convalescent period. Meanwhile the old horse caught some attention in the Hunt Trial, and an older gentleman comes asking for him, claims to have known Charlie in the past. Now the kids will finally know some of the horse’s individual history, but this also means they have to decide: will they keep him, or give him back to the previous owner?

This is a really nice horse story, and the admirable illustrations by Paul Brown are so crisp and expressive. I enjoyed it very much, although it moves at such a quick pace. It’s well-told, but the author doesn’t linger long on any details. I would really like to read more of her books- she wrote quite a few about these kids and their various ponies- but they’re not easy to find! (or afford, being rare). Mine is an ex-library book with very worn edges, torn pages, scribbles in various places and dogeared corners- so would be considered a “reading copy” only- but still I felt a bit faint when I looked online and saw a few prices. Well, another author to keep my eye out for now, when I’m at secondhand shops, library sales and the like! Maybe another beat-up one will come my way someday. Worn out just like this old horse was, but still good for a read.

Rating: 3/5
95 pages, 1955

the Story of an Indian Pony

by Forrestine C. Hooker

From the viewpoint of a pony, this tells about the lives of Native Americans in the Comanche tribe, when white settlers were starting to encroach on their land. The young pony Star belongs to the daughter of the chief, and his mother likewise is the chief’s favorite pony. The ponies are well aware of their owners’ status, and feel keenly the importance of proving themselves brave and capable. When the story begins, the tribe is upset by approach of European settlers in a covered wagon caravan, protected by a troop of soldiers on white horses. Unsettling stories abound of how the white men not only kill their people and take captives, but also kill all the game, and they see firsthand how large numbers of bison are slaughtered and left to rot. Alarmed that their land is being ruined and overrun, they set out to fight, sweeping into the invader’s camp at night to take their horses, thus crippling their mobility. The pony Star is part of these engagements, sometimes well aware of what’s going on, other times confused and just trying to stay with his familiar people, or fellow ponies. He meets the soldiers’ horses that are mingled with the pony herd afterwards, and talks eagerly to them, hearing of strange things. Some of the Native ponies shun the white men’s horses, others are companionable realizing they have no conflict, even if their owners do. For the most part the horses don’t understand why the humans fight when the land seems big enough for all.

After the first bout of fighting, all is peaceful for a while and the story falls into describing daily life of the tribe. Then the chief has to go confront dangers again, leaving behind his daughter and the pony Star. The girl misses her father and wants to fight too, stoutly claiming that she can shoot arrows as well as any of the young men. She sneaks out in the middle of the night with Star to join the fighters, but gets lost and there’s several chapters of survival story as girl and pony traverse a desert region, return alone to find the camp deserted, fight off coyotes, and then track down the tribe at their new location. I found the ending a disappointment- it made it seem like there was now peace between the Comanches and the white men. The tribe was relocated close to a fort for protection, the people now happy they could trade for new goods, that their children would learn the same things as white children, etc. It seemed too simple and optimistic to me.

This is one of those books I would have probably loved as a child- but I’m just too critical a reader as an adult. Not sure how accurate the cultural depictions of the Comanches are (they call themselves Quahada), but I feel like some of the animal behavior is off the mark. I liked reading about the wildlife the tribe lived among- the pronghorn antelope, the horned toads and birds. The chief’s daughter had a pet fawn and a captive bison calf. But did coyotes really hunt their prey in packs hundreds strong? Even as an exaggeration that seems extreme. The ponies all lie down on the ground to sleep at night, and when threatened the horses, antelope and deer all made circles to protect their young in the center- like musk-oxen. I’ve never read elsewhere of horses doing this. Don’t they usually just flee. I could be wrong though! but it was little things like this that kind of threw off the reading experience for me. That and the slightly stilted prose- I’m not sure if because it was written for children, or because the author was imitating how the Native Americans spoke English. And as always, I don’t mind when animals talk in stories, but it does annoy me when their understanding goes beyond reasonable. This one was uneven in that regard. Sometimes it made sense what the horses could comprehend, other times it didn’t.

Rating: 2/5
166 pages, 1964

by Patricia Cecil Hass

Found this one at random in a thrift store. It was an entertaining read for one afternoon- I’m sure kids would enjoy this adventure story from a different era, when kids ran about exploring freely, but for me as an adult reading, there were just a few too many plot holes. It’s about two kids who visit a relative that has a peanut farm on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia. They’ve made friends with a local boy, from a poor family that lives more or less off the land nearby. Eager to learn about the swamp from him, they plan to go camping. Just before setting out, hear from other locals about a ghost in the swamp. The children scoff at the idea of a ghost and are determined to find what it is- certain it must be an unknown animal. They find a stray horse, and also the game warden tracking something with dogs. So of course their focus switches from just camping out, to catching the horse, evading the dogs, and then fighting off and escaping a fire in the swamp, when one kid gets injured and nearly trapped. The horse saves the day (not of his own accord).

Actually, I liked how realistic the horse was, when so many other things were dubious. At the start of the kids’ outing, I was reminded of Two Little Savages, but this book has far less detail on survival skills- they do make a fire, catch and cook fish, gather berries to eat, etc- but I was baffled at how they strung hammocks to sleep up high in a tree, somehow it skipped the specifics of that. They also have wildlife encounters- a bobcat, a snake, then later a black bear- it was astonishing how easily these kids fought off the bear with sharpened sticks. And the confrontation with the fire was something else, too- even though the horse was kind of used to them at that point, I doubt it would have really trusted them enough to get so close to the flames. Willing to overlook that for the sake of an exciting kid’s story, though. What puzzled me more, was the secrecy- the kids were so convinced they had to hide the horse from the game warden- what did they think would happen when they got it to the farm? Of course they want to avoid finding the horse’s real owner (it’s obviously a valuable animal) but then very conveniently for a happy ending, it turns out the owner is tired of her horse running away, and perfectly happy to let them keep it at the peanut farm. Yay.

I have to mention a good part of this story is the kids’ interactions- mild squabbling between the brother and sister, the quiet local boy admiring their easy way of talking while they in turn admire his knowledge of the swamp and skills there. The brother is interested in bird-watching and thinks he sees an ivory-billed woodpecker (extinct). The local kid has two nearly-invalid parents he supports at home in the swamp, stubbornly refusing assistance. I kind of wondered if there’s a later book that continues some of those threads.

Rating: 2/5
187, 1973

by Amy Timberlake

Badger likes living alone. He likes the quiet in his study, surrounding himself with tools and specimens, immersed in the study of rocks. But then a skunk shows up on his doorstep- a chatty, energetic skunk who insists he’s Badger’s new roommate. Badger doesn’t want a roommate. He feels compelled to be polite, but also tries to make Skunk realize he’s not really welcome- at first subtly, then not so. (Though he does find he likes Skunk’s cooking, but not the cleaning up afterwards!) Things are just awkward at first: Skunk attempting to get along, be comfortable, and welcome his chicken friends to visit. Badger gets irritated at constant interruptions to his work, and he doesn’t really like chickens. Can’t even understand what they’re saying. And there’s far too many of them. Eventually Badger overreacts to something, Skunk gets his feelings hurt and leaves, and Badger is relieved at first- but then realizes he misses his companion. He has to find Skunk, which gets him out of the house exploring the little town (he’d kind of been a reclusive with his rock interest). And then figure out how to apologize, and if he can make amends.

Cute book, although some parts were- odd. I did not at all get the Quantum Leap stuff, and the ukulele seemed out of place, too. I kept waiting for some explanation or backstory, nope. Maybe it will be clear in the next book (Egg Marks the Spot). I did really like the funny little bookstore! Nice that the story gave me some surprises. Before I had this one in hand, I thought it was a picture book- no, it’s a short chapter book. Along the lines of The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, or The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Frank Stockton.

Illustrations by Jon Klassen. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
124 pages, 2020


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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