I think children are born with a kinship for animal friends. I see this in my young boys, who are just now discovering the collections of fables, Anansi stories, and old animal myths. There's something endearing about these adventures, something magical about escaping into an animal-world akin to our own but so fantastically different.
Today I thought to spotlight some of my favorite middle-grade reads with anthropomorphic animal stars.
MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, by: Robert C. O'Brien
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. And Mrs. Frisby in turn renders them a great service. - Amazon summary
If a book can make a kid want to BE a rat, that is a remarkable feat. Typing up the summary of this book stirs memories of the gripping suspense of it all, the intrigue and horror I felt discovering the secret of NIMH, and the admirable courage of Mrs. Frisby. Amazing! Bonus: the movie adaptation was also a win.
WATERSHIP DOWN, by: Richard Adams
Set in England's Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. - Amazon summary
Rabbits! On a quest! Escaping the ravages of modernity! I read somewhere that Adams originally crafted this tale as a serial bed-time story he told his children, which makes me love the book all the more. However, the movie adaptation completely terrified me as a child - trippy leaping rabbit sequence, anyone?
SOLO'S JOURNEY, by: Joy Aiken Smith
This story of survival focuses on Solo, a special cat with wisdom and insight who, after the death of his mother struggles to survive in the tough but close-knit community of feral cats to which he belongs. When the Owners come to destroy their home, Solo realizes he must lead his Quorum away. - Amazon summary
I think this book might have been out of print when I first read it twenty-five years ago. But oh how wonderful it is! This is the book I "bought" (read: paid the lost-book fee) from the library, because I couldn't find my own copy anywhere (pre-internet days, folks - times were hard). And this was the book that made me look pityingly on my indoor-only cat, wondering if she truly longed to be free. And the one that bizarrely inspired me to clip my fingernails into little cat-like points so I could be more feline. I recommend it like crazy, hoping that it can find its way into the hands of today's cat-loving readers.
TAILCHASER'S SONG, by: Tad Williams
Fritti Tailchaser, a young ginger tom not yet a full grown hunter, is the main cat among a host of appropriately named feline peers in this extravagantly detailed fantasy. When his best friend, Hushpad, vanishes, Fritti embarks on a quest to find her, and so enters the list of jousters against the evils of the world. His many trials and adventures bring him into contact with a veritable galaxy of cats, who speak a language for which a glossary is provided. This feline epic culminates in a decisive battle with an evil cat god. - Amazon summary
Before the WARRIORS craze, there was brave, courageous Fritti Tailchaser and his quest-worthy Hushpad. While not technically middle-grade, I discovered this fabulous novel in the 7th grade and spent many lunches reading it over my Cup'O Noodles.
There are so many more books I could list: CHARLOTTE'S WEB, and STUART LITTLE, and all the friends in ALICE IN WONDERLAND, not to mention Project Mayhem's own: Hilary Wagner's wonderful NIGHTSHADE CHRONICLES.
What about you, fellow Mayhemers? What were some of your favorite animal books as kids and why? Have you stumbled across any new titles sure to become favorites?