Tuesday, May 6, 2014

For the Love of Animals, by: Marissa Burt

I've been thinking about adopting a cat lately. The past decade has been a sadly pet-less existence, but as far back as I can remember I've always loved cats: their ambivalent affection, the feel of a soft weight arriving in the night to curl up at your feet (or perhaps on your face), the way their tails make a perfect question mark.

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, 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?


  1. I think I missed the animal phase as a child, but now I love CHARLOTTE'S WEB with a passion, and also enjoyed THE RATS OF NIMH. And my latest work has anthropomorphic animals, so go figure! You certainly made me want to read SOLO's JOURNEY--but that might mean we'd have to get a cat (like you, our past decade has been pet-less.)

  2. The Redwall series by Brian Jacque was a favorite of mine. For an earlier one, I would say The Wind in the Willows.

    1. Oh, Wind in the Willows - how could I forget? Sadly, I haven't yet read the Redwall series, but I have had a peek at the cookbook. :)

  3. Loved Mrs. Frisby so much as a girl! It was such fun to share with my boys. And I can't imagine a childhood without Charlotte (I also can't imagine reading the last few lines without bawling).

    1. Yes, I'm hoping to do Mrs. Frisby as a read aloud soon. We did Charlotte earlier this year, and I had a hard time with the ending, too.

  4. Animal stories have never been among my favorites, The Chronicles of Narnia of course being the major exception. And I do love Charlotte's Web. I haven't read any of your recommendations, though I remember the Mrs. Frisby movie very clearly. But now I have lots of possibilities to try!

    1. Animal Fantasy can be one of those licorice genres, either you love or not, but I think lack of access to variety is part of the problem for some readers, not citing you specifically.

      I've read many books in recent years that I normally am not into, but that book or body of a specific author's work gripped me, this has been especially in true in the nonfiction I read now, despite the national statistics that say boys read more nonfiction, I read more FICTION than nonfiction (as far as pleasure reading goes) as a kid and now.

      In terms of fiction, I loved "The Thirteenth Tale" (Not a kid's book, but brave teens and adults may like it) and I'm usually not into dark stories, especially when they involve troubled kids, but I loved hearing the unabridged audiobook, the dual narrators were brilliant!

      In terms of kid's books, I LOVE Judy Moody and Clementine, in part because they can make real life be as exciting and engaging as the fantastical stuff that I embrace a writer.

      The Geronimo Stilton series is another eye-opener for me in terms of animal fantasy. I was skeptical with this series for various reasons (Alongside my personal issues with WFH series when I'm trying so hard to write and published quality books under my real name, etc) but I took a chance on it and I loved it, in spite of the nitpicks I have with the use of adverbs and other minor things.

      But I think that's one of those things that the intended reader needs more than I.

      These would've been my Nancy Drew as a kid had they existed in the 90s, and if they did, they were still in Italian which I can't read, and likely wouldn't know about because the world (online or off) wasn't as global as things are now.

      When "Writer Envy" gets to CODE RED levels I can always read G.S. and laugh and remind myself "There's room for all kinds of books and they're writers." (LOL)

      A book I'd recommend for you, Joy is "The Bear Comes Home" by Rafi Zabor. This is NOT a kid's book, but a perfect example of the depth and variety animal stories can have. It's a deep story, but it's also funny and pokes fun at the various "Classics" of genre without belittling them.

      Normally I'm not into parody, but this book manages to make fun of the genre its in, in a loving but real way. You can check out the
      fan book trailer I made to (like my Hermux example below) raise awareness on this book-


      You may still not be into animal fantasy, and that's fine, but give it another try, with books like this that aim for more mature readers, you never know the book that opens new door for you as a reader and you're so GLAD it did!

      I'll be reviewing on T.A.A. soon, and while I focus on kid lit, I do want to review titles for older, dare I say adult readers, too, who aren't necessarily authors like those of us who hang out on places like Project Mayhem, or work in education, or parents of kids in the middle grade years, etc.

    2. Some great rec's here. Thanks Taurean! And BTW - I loathe licorice - haha!

    3. I actually like licorice, but I didn't like gummy bears (The candy, not to be confused the "Gummi Bears" cartoon from my 90s youth that I LOVED, and I'm still mad they ended on a cliffhanger!)

  5. Oh, no! Time to get caught up! :)

  6. I read The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad and Stuart Little with my son last year, and we both enjoyed many laughs. As I child I loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and Black Beauty.

  7. I had no idea about Tad Williams! Wow.

    1. Someone on a forum introduced me to Tad Williams. I have a book by him (Not the one cited above), haven't got to it yet.

    2. I was just surprised because I know him as an author of adult fantasy, but actually the same is true of Richard Adams (SHARDIK, MAIA), so maybe I shouldn't be so shocked.

    3. I know right? I later came to read some of his adult series (which I've really enjoyed), and, while TAILCHASER'S SONG is probably technically adult, I think kids eager for longer, epic fantasies will enjoy it.

  8. Thanks for this post, Marissa! First, let me say I've thought about having another pet when my honorable senior hound, Pepper, is no longer with me, and depending on how things go this year, I may expand my furry family before then, if I can swing the finances and have the right living environment. But anyway-

    I created a site dedicated to this topic so forgive me if I ramble a bit-

    I sadly wasn't one of those bookish kids, but came to pleasure reading in my teens, for me the issue wasn't technical like many writers often express, I just hadn't found what I wanted to read, and I later found that what I loved wasn't easily found in novel form.

    While many my age were graduating to edgy YA and adult fiction (I didn't get into HP until the halfway point, before Half-Blood Prince first came out as a book) I was still reading MG before I knew it was called that.

    Now as a reader I do still read fiction and nonfiction aimed at adults (Unlike many of my writer friends who're exclusively devoted to kid lit for their own reasons) as I strongly believe that there's no point in raising readers as kids/teens if there can't be great books for when they eventually grow up, but again, that's a whole other topic…

    One of my favorite books is "A Rat's Tale" by Tor Seidler. This book inspired my eventually writing my debut novel Gabriel nine years ago, but I first read it at 14 before I began my writer path. It's a really touching story with gorgeous illustrations by the late and great Fred Marcelino. (If he were still alive and illustrating, and money were no object, I'd want him to be the illustrator for Gabriel!)

    I also MUST recommend "Time Stops for No Mouse" by Michael Hoeye. It's the first in a series of four books (I hope they'll be more) in the Hermux Tantamoq series. It's this unique and wondrous hybrid of "Beatrix Potter for Grown-ups" meets "Murder, She Wrote" except the protagonist is male and not a widowed author.

    That said, this book has more depth than what my elevator pitch suggests, which is why I hate trying to think of them for my own books, but that's another topic…

    It's an MG novel but has enough sophistication and character depth teens who give it a chance may like it.

    I've been so desperate to talk to others about this series which no one in my circles had heard of before I brought it to their attention that I created fan book trailers to do so-

    You can find the fan videos I did for the other three here-


    To be continued...

    1. While publishing often talks shop about YA-Adult crossover appeal, this can apply to MG books, too, and the Hermux series I feel has great crossover appeal to teens as much as tweens who "Still (publically) believe in Magic" if you know what I mean.

      Plus, aside from the first book, you'd never guess from the titles the type of story it is, which for readers more self-conscious than I am now (though that was once me as a teen, too, so I do understand the social stigma) provides a cover for social stigma.

      While I'm personally for depicting the characters on covers, the covers for the Hermux series avoid the "Cutesy" factor that will keep many teens (particularly boys) from giving the books a chance, yet still thematically fit the story behind the cover.

      I don't think it's as big a problem in the case of the Redwall series in part because the characters are in rugged profile, often with their signature weapon, so readers get this is more serious than say what you find in a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon or a comic strip that's meant to be played purely for laughs.

      I'm not as adept on the "Classics" as much as I should be, but I go by what I'm attracted to first, sometimes it's a classic, but I'm ALWAYS on the lookout for new voices.

      They can be especially hard to find once we move BEYOND picture books/early readers, and I started T.A.A. in large part because I want the average reader to understand the variety and depth animal fantasy offers, emphasis on VARIETY!

      Too many people (Especially in my circle of career-minded authors, many of which are parents) think animal fantasy begins and ends with Charlotte's Web, Redwall, Warriors, and Watership Down in terms of novel-length books, and I'm not criticizing those books, but there's so much variety in this genre that I feel I have to shout it from the rooftops.
      Beyond those cited examples that I'm DESPERATE to raise awareness and give hope to other animal story writers like me that despite all the shtick about "Animal Fantasy's a HARD SELL" it still gets published, regardless of your platform or whatever, and with T.A.A. I'm trying to build that community where readers and writers connect.

      It doesn't have to be TCTL (Too cute to live) or raunchy as all get out (Ted…*Shivers in cold sweat*) There's more to animal fantasy than clan-based warfare, memoirs of tyrannical dogs, and paranormal whatever!

      It can be a little bit of those things.

      Or even NONE of those things.

      For the same valid reason(s) nonfiction can be as gripping as fiction, except it's true (assuming the author/publisher behind it did their due diligence), and YA+ romance isn't just about characters "Making Out" (To be as PG as I can since this is an MG-centric blog)

      As manic as I might sound, this is my passion, and it takes courage to speak it every day, without apology, shame, or paralyzing self-doubt.

      People always say, "Feel the fear and do it anyway" and that's what I do with T.A.A. every day.

      Part of this may be from those who aren't as into what I love reading and writing (as Joy McCullough-Carranza eluded to above) and that's fine, but I do think part of it is being unaware of the variety in the great stuff coming out now.

      Along with bringing to light the gems from earlier times that were eclipsed by the "Classics" often parroted (pun fully intended!) but are just as good and deserves their due, too.

    2. I love the sound of Beatrix Potter meets Murder She Wrote! :)

    3. I guess I'm better at elevator pitches for books I didn't write.

  9. One last thing ('ll be BRIEF this time!) I recently reviewed "I Am Otter" by Sam Garton and it's definitely one of my favorite books of the year. I read it 5 1/2 times before wrote the review which you can read here-


    I'm having a giveaway where you can win a copy of the book! Further details in the link above. Best of luck if you enter!

    1. I will definitely enter! Thanks for the link. M

    2. Thanks for stopping by T.A.A., Marissa. I'll be doing more reviews this month, I had a dry spell due to offline life needing my attention but I've got some great things planned so you and the other "Mayhemers" stay tuned...

      Taurean J. Watkins (The Literary Rat)

      P.S. For those of you MLP fans, good and bad news-

      Good news: EPIC season finale 5/10/14 (In the U.S. on the Hub Network) + Season 5 CONFIRMED!

      Bad news: Season 5's slated for 2015, but at least it's official
      (I'm a #Bronie, but what do you expect? I run T.A.A. after all)

    3. Just in case you missed it on T.A.A. (I announced it later than I intended due to life being a witch...) Congratulations Marissa, you won! Learn how to claim your prize here-

  10. I loved Redwall, Narnia, John Masefield's lesser-known Kay Harker books (which have a few animal characters), and I just read Jackie Morris's East of the Sun, West of the Moon retelling, which left me very sad, but I loved the bear. I thought the deamons and Iorek Byrnison in His Dark Materials were a brilliant way to world-build logical reasons for talking animals. I love this subject, Marissa. If you get a kitten, please invite me over to meet it. :)

  11. J - I haven't heard of the Kay Harker books or the East of the Sun retelling. More for the to-read pile. And, yes, kitten introductions all around whenever the day comes. Though just today listening to my three thundering around and wrestling I thought: WE might be ready for a kitten, but a kitten might not be ready for us just yet. ;)

    1. The Box of Delights (the second Kay Harker book) is a great Christmas read. And as for kittens, our cats are still somewhat terrified by our littles. But that's progress to when they were babies. Our orange tabby used to sniff the kids' fuzzy little heads and then jump back, thoroughly offended. He still hides from them most of the day. Our other cat lets them pet her, but she's a glutton for attention. ;)

  12. Animal Farm is one of my favourites and Peter Rabbit is a classic. Oh and I got Story's End on Saturday Marissa.

    1. Oh, good! Happy reading. :) And how could I forget Beatrix Potter?

  13. Thank you for the mention, Ms. Burt! :) I have to say, Watership Down, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and The Wind in the Willows number among my favorites! What a great post!!!

  14. And let us not forget Sam, the cat, in the Storybound books! I wonder if he inspired you to adopt!!! We must include Marissa's masterpieces in the ranks of talking critters.

  15. Marissa, I tried to , but it didn't go through for some reason. You won my giveaway, please go here to learn how to claim your prize-

    The sooner I get your info the sooner I can ship your prize!

    Take care,
    Taurean J. Watkins


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!