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10 Books For Young Adult Readers Who Love Animals

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The benefits of reading are as manifold as the books that shelve our libraries. They make us better writers by their example grammar and syntactically-pleasant prose. Equally important (especially in a time where digital interaction is replacing physical interaction with ever-greater frequency), books can also give us new ways to think about our shared human condition.

But English teachers are hard-pressed to get most high-school age readers to dedicate the hundreds of hours of their youth necessary to finish such classics as Gone With the Wind or A Tale of Two Cities, if their students cannot relate to either an antebellum Southern lady or French physician imprisoned in the Bastille, respectively.

To pique these young readers’ interest, try a theme inspired by a source of comfort and amusement to so many of them: animals! For those passionate about their pets, there are plenty of gems available from classics to modern canon.

1.) Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

Two sleepless nights in college with a fellow literature enthusiast revealed Melville’s classic Moby Dick as my own white whale, of sorts. Though I recommend the original tome, the literary canon has acquired evidence of the fertile relationship between the arts and sciences manifest in Emoji Dick.

2.) The Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

What do you get when you mix a Spanish-born Canadian writer, an Indian protagonist and a Bengalese tiger named Richard Parker? An unconventional Bildungsroman (to say the least). Life of Pi became a best-selling novel inspired by the writer’s own search for self-affirmation, and, though fantastical, manages to be a page-turner.

3.) Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keynes)

In this haunting classic, the title character (minor, but symbolic) is the mouse, Algernon, who was subject to an experiment to increase his intelligence artificially (in this way, the book, published in 1959, is rather prescient). The ending highlights both little Algernon’s and our own mortality and limitations.

4.) Call of the Wild (Jack London)

Here our main character, Buck “had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, was even a trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes become because of their insular situation,” and he is a dog.  Nevertheless, Buck is as adventuresome many well-known literary humans. The book unfolds from Buck’s perspective, who is kidnapped but achieves fame as a sled-dog. Buck epitomizes the canine loyal companion.

5.) Horse Heaven (Jane Smiley)

A relatively recent product to the list, Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven was published by Ballentine Books in 2001 is a wonderful literary escapade for equestrians. It chronicles the experience of horses used in racing in California. If you like her writing, she has equine non-fiction, too: A Year At the Races:  Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money and Luck (2004).”

6.) The Wind and the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

This 1908 classic novel hasn’t lost its currency. It’s protagonist, Mole, is unremittingly charming. He delights readers as, upon his ascension from his hole in the ground, he is overwhelmed by how pleasant our terrestrial world is. This story addresses the larger themes of justice, privilege, and perspective though it is a relatively short novel, and with (almost) entirely anthropomorphic animal characters.

7.) Watership Down (Richard Adams)

This  classic animals’ perspective tale gave rise to the linguistic development recognized now as the “Lapine” language. It is set in southern England, and has received several prizes in both the U.S. and U.K., including the Guardian Children’s Fiction. It is epic fantasy with oddly relatable characters, and a must-read for rabbit-owners and enthusiasts.

8.) Redwall (Brian Jacques)

Another classic that prompted an entire series (twenty-two in total) is Redwall (1986). “Redwall” is named for the place in “Mossflower Forest,” that is a refuge for animals like Matthias the mouse. Matthias leads other field mice to defend Redwall from a rat who aims to besiege it. Adding to the allure of this book, which features magnificent fantasy illustrations, is that it was hand-written by the late author, Brian Jacques (in all 800 pages), and submitted to a publisher by his English teacher!

9.) A Dog’s Purpose (W. Bruce Cameron)

The same author who gave us the best-selling book 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (2001) which inspired a sitcom of the same name. A Dog’s Purpose follows a dog who recounts his reincarnation as different breeds.  But, we will let the dog do the talking…

10.) Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawles)

Where the Red Fern Grows is a charming novel about a boy who works odd jobs in his hometown in Idaho to buy himself two Redbone Coonhounds. Be warned: it is a tear-jerker, but replete with life lessons, and so worth every tissue.


Sarah Smith  


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