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Friday, October 21, 2011

Woof woof meow meow

Talking with reading teachers I was asked to help find stories that reluctant readers will pick up. I had to think about this, and now if asked I would say, "Have you tried animal stories?" We could start with Charlotte's Web, right?

Animal stories have been around for a very long time. 2,500 years ago Aesop set down his fables. Many of them involved animals as the main characters. If I say “A Town Mouse, A country Mouse” can you remember the story? I'll bet you can.

Animals are part of our world and part of our stories. We share our world with them. Of course, they are part of our stories.

Sometimes they are used to teach children a lesson, an example would be Curious George. I know animal rights people sometimes express concern over poor George, but guess what? He's still in every library everywhere.

Some stories are purely animal—what the animal does is what the animal does. What has kept Charlotte’s Web as a classic is one, friendship, but two—a grounding in reality that keeps the book true. Templeton is a Rat and behaves like a Rat. Charlotte stays true to spiderhood and does what a spider should. It is this constant that allows us deeper into the story to fully love and embrace the characters.

There are stories of humanized animals—some stay realistic, others branch off into fantasy.
The Brian Jacques books.
Watership Down.
There are stories where the animal is the pulse that drives the human character. Some classics here—Walter Farley’s horse books, Margurite Henry’s horse stories (including Misty of Chincoteague—Newbery Honor book).

If you enjoy animal stories, here are a few more you should look at these classics--
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Graham
Stuart Little—E.B. White
The Trumpet of the Swan—E.B. White
One Hundred and One Dalmations—Dodie Smith
Dr. Doolittle—Hugh Lofting (available for free on www.pagebypagebooks.com)
The Black Stallion series—Walter Farley
Books by Marguerite Henry (24)

One very different one that was recommended by Leonard Marcus, the children's literature expert, is called Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones. It's a remarkable tale for a YA audience. Ken Oppel's Airborn is a popular one with middle grade readers. I've listed the Adventures of TumTum and Nutmeg previously, it's a charming adventure with two little mice trying to help a pair of children. It's a terrific read aloud.

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