I have been an animal lover since I before I could walk. I would lug home giant books on zoology, marine biology and whatever else I could get my hands on and devour their contents, but as a fiction lover too, not all my animals books were weighty scientific tombs. Some of the ones that captivated my imagination were fiction books where animals played a starring role.

Today, I’m doing a round up of some of my favorites from my childhood. Maybe you remember them, or maybe you’ve never heard of a few. Whether they are old favorites or new to you, be sure to share them with your animal-loving child. These books are for early to mid-elementary readers, depending on their reading level. Don’t be surprised, though, if after reading these your son or daughter starts asking for a horse, a dog or even a raccoon!

 

Black stallion cover The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

As a kid, I adored horses, and The Black Stallion was one of my all time favorite stories about a horse. Written in 1941, this is a story about Alec Ramsey who first meets the Black, as the stallion is named, as he boards a ship returning from India. The Black belongs to a wealthy sheikh but is wild and untameable. The boy and the horse become shipwrecked on a deserted desert island, and as they struggle to stay alive together, they form a lifelong bond that helps them both to survive. After his rescue, Alec is determined to stay with the Black, and he befriends retired horse trainer Henry Dailey. The two secretly train the Black to race. However, with out a documented pedigree, the Black can only race as a mystery horse in a match race. The Black Stallion is the first of 20 books by Farley in the series that chronicles the life of the Black and his three offspring: his first colt, Satan; his second colt Bonfire, and his first filly, Black Minx. The series also introduces a second stallion in the Island Stallion that is considered the Black’s only equal named Flame. To be honest, The Island Stallion was probably a tie for me as far as favorites to. I think I read that book a dozen times, and it inspired me to write my own island adventure. Unfortunately, my version wasn’t very good and included such wonderful descriptors as panthers “bristling like pine cones.” lol

 

Black-Beauty cover Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Written at the end of the 19th century, Black Beauty is one of the first books to be told from the point of view of an animal. The story opens with Beauty growing up in a pleasant meadow and his time spent as a foal with his mother who advises him to behave well so he will be treated well. In the first part of the book, Beauty grows up and is sold to a horse lover, Squire Gordon who takes good care of him. He makes friends with the other horses there, Ginger, Merrylegs and Sir Oliver. This idyllic existence ends though when, in the second part of the book, he is sold to Earlshare Park. Life here is considerably harder. A riding accident ruins his knees and he is sold several times until he ends up pulling a cab. When his cab driver owner gets sick, Beauty is once again passed through several hands before he ends up with his old groom from his first home. He ends his days peacefully. This book was one of my favorites because I felt like I was weeing the world from a horse’s viewpoint. It’s interesting to note that this book, at the time of its publication, captured the public’s attention and brought to light the mistreatment of animals. Of course, I was about 8 when I first read this book, and I had no idea it did all that. I just loved the story, and I’m sure your child will too!

rascal cover Rascal by Sterling North.
Written in 1963, Rascal is another book I can thank my Grandma Craig for introducing me to. Rascal is a memoir of Sterling North’s childhood pet raccoon. A boy’s paradise, the book is a glimpse of another era and features skunks, woodchucks, a crow named Poe and a 19-foot, half finished canoe. So, when Sterling brings home a baby raccoon who he found abandoned in the woods, his absent-minded father doesn’t protest. Over the next year, Rascal and Sterling become best friends, enjoying a perfect year of adventures together back when kids could roam the woods all day without raising an eyebrow. It isn’t until the next spring, when Rascal grows up and is interested in more than just playing with Sterling, that STerling realizes if he really loves Rascal he must let him go. This is a heartwarming memoir of a boy’s friendship with a wild animal, and has not only won numerous awards, but also become a beloved classic.

Big red book cover Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
When Danny saw the Irish setter, it was love at first sight for Red and Danny. Red is fast, strong, and smart. His noble character is all that we dream dogs should be. Soon the boy and dog are inseparable. The two go on many adventures, but their biggest and most dangerous challenge comes when they go up against a savage killer bear, Old Majesty. I loved this book and quickly devoured several of the subsequent books – Outlaw Red, Irish Red and Son of Red. In fact, if you have a son or daughter who loves adventure stories that feature dogs with heart, Jim Kjelgaard is the author to check out. He wrote 40 novels during his short life (1910-1959), most of which feature dogs as the main protagonist, but there are other animals featured, as well. His most famous book though was Big Red which he wrote in 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

wind in willows cover Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I can’t remember who bought me this book, but I read it so much, the hard cover is all worn out. In Wind in the Willows we meet an interesting cast of characters including Mole, Ratty, Badger and cranky Toad. Written in 1908, this little group of friends have become the archetype of the eccentric, the foolish and also of friendship. The friends’ misadventures in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars and their home in the Wild Wood will snag your child’s imagination. The little group still hold a place in my heart, even all these years later.

walls within walls

Walls Within Walls is the debut novel of Maureen Sherry. The story centers around the four Smithfork kids: 12-year-old CJ, 9-year-old Brid, 6-year-old Patrick and 2-year-old Carron. After their father, a video game inventor, strikes it rich, they get a whole new life. The only problem is, they all hate this new life. Instead of living in their cozy Brooklyn neighborhood, they now live in a swanky Manhattan apartment on Fifth Avenue. With no other kids to play with and a nanny that seems to have taken the place of their parents, the siblings (minus Carron who is too little to care at this point), are spending the last days of summer dreading going to their new school which they are sure they will hate too.

Things get interesting, though, when they find out that the historic apartment building they live in was once a large home originally owned by Mr. Post. He long ago turned the apartment into a giant puzzle containing a mysterious book and hidden puzzles. With luck, the clues will lead to the long lost Post family fortune.  They race through New York unraveling the mystery and uncover some long hidden secrets of the past in the process.

Walls Within Walls is geared toward readers in 4th through 7th grade, depending on their reading level. It’s a fun read, and keeps you turning the pages trying to figure out the clues and what will come next. Both boys and girls will identify with the oldest of the four siblings – brother/sister duo. Patrick is also a character kids will identify with if they are have older siblings and tend to get left behind on adventures.

*** Mild Spoilers Ahead****

 

The Good Stuff

  • Despite some squabbles, the siblings really care about each other.
  • Even though the parents in this book are very distracted by their new good fortunes, they do love their children and come to see the error of their ways by the end.
  • The children go through a lot of danger and trouble to help Eloise, the daughter of Mr. Post, who they discover still alive and living in one of the apartments in their building
  • Eloise realizes that her father did not just play a cruel trick on her, but actually designed the puzzle thinking she would figure it out.

The Stuff To Be Aware Of

  • Although mild, there are some dangerous situations the kids get into and people chase them.
  • The kids do sneak around and lie to their parents so they can chase clues.
  • The kids skip school, but are caught by their parents eventually.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a fun read for kids in upper elementary into middle school. The clues are interesting, and the mystery will keep kids turning the pages. The ending of the book gives the idea that there might be a sequel, too.

Happy Reading,

Rosanne

If your 6th through 8th grader is clamoring to read the Hunger Games, but you think that series might be a bit old for them, the Underland Chronicles might be a good alternative. Suzanne Collins may have reached fame with her Hunger Games trilogy, but her Underland series, written for a slightly younger audience, will  keep readers turning pages – maybe even past bedtime!

gregor the overlander cover

There are five books in the series: Gregor the Overlander; Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane; Gregor and the Curse of the Warm Bloods; Gregor and the Mark of Secret and Gregor and the Code of Claw.

The first book begins when 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots fall through a grate in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building, and they discover a whole new world, called the Underland. The Underland is inhabited by not only pale, violet-eyed humans, but giant bats, cockroaches, spiders, rats and other creatures. While some of the creatures, like the bats, are allies with the humans; others, like the rats, are mortal enemies.

Throughout the five book series Gregor, as “the warrior,” and his sister Boots appear to figure in prophecies of the Earl of Sandwich, the man that led the humans to the Underland long ago. Every book in the series features a prophecy that Gregor needs to help fulfill and/or solve. 

* The next section has some mild spoilers*

The Good Stuff

Not only are these well-written, exciting stories, but there are some pretty good lessons and themes that run throughout the series.

* Gregor and others, often sacrifices themselves for the good of others

* Gregor recognizes that even in war, winning shouldn’t be at any cost- that there are certain things nobody should ever do.

* Gregor and his family have a close bond.

* Unlike a lot of stories, the parents are involved in Gregor’s adventures, even if it is often reluctantly and in a periphery sort of way.

* People (or creatures as the case may be) should be seen as individuals and not just assumed evil or good based on which group they belong to.

* War is not always the answer.

* War is not glamorized at all.

The Stuff to Be Aware of

* There is a lot of fighting/war violence in these books.

* People and animals die, sometimes in gruesome ways, although Collins isn’t overtly gory with the details.

* There is a scene where a group of mice is gassed to death that is reminiscent of the Holacaust.

* In one of the books Gregor and his bat Aries are on trial for treason and if they are found guilty will  be executed by being shoved off a cliff to their deaths.

* One of the prophecies appears to call for Gregor’s death, and he has to face that.

* There is some mild romance in this book – Gregor and the Underland queen Luxa have a thing for each other and kiss, but it’s all pretty innocent. Each of them understands there are bigger things at stake than their romance.

Conclusion

This is a great series for middle school readers. The main characters are likable and the story is very engaging. My biggest issue was the ending of the series. Gregor returns to the Overland, but he is struggling with what to do as a 12-year-old boy who has experienced war and the death of good friends in another world. It was a realistic ending, but younger readers might not feel satisfied with the ending, so this really IS a series for kids probably 5th grade and up.

When I was a kid, I always had my nose in a book. Sometimes, I even walked and tried to read at the same time. This might account for the number of trips I took to the emergency room as a kid – it’s not a good sign when they know you by name! ;)

So, today, I thought it might be fun to take a stroll down memory lane and share my five top picks from my childhood. All of these books were introduced to me by my Grandma Craig. I could always count on her to give me books for my birthdays and Christmas. Whenever I picked up the square, heavy packages I knew a new adventure was awaiting me. Some of these books may be familiar to you and others, not so much.  I can vouch for all of them though because they are old friends.

 

 

charlottes-web-cover
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

This is a childhood classic about a pig names Wilbur, a spider named Charlotte and a little girl named Fern. Fern lives on a farm and as most little girls, falls in love with all the baby animals born every spring. When a runty piglet looks like it’s not going to make it, she begs her father to let her raise it. As Wilbur gets bigger, he is moved out to the barn with the other animals. There he finds a friend in Charlotte the spider. When Wilbur discovers the shocking news that he will end his life as bacon for someone’s breakfast, Charlotte is there to help him deal with it. She also hatches up a plan to save his life by spinning messages in her webs above Wilbur’s pen. E.B. White’s award winning book touches on friendship, love, life, death and even growing up. It’s a classic for a reason! :)

 

 

 

 

 

Trumpet_of_the_Swan_Book_Cover_by_Chu4eon

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

What can I say? I was a big E.B. White fan when I was kid thanks to my Grandmother. Louis is a trumpeter swan. The only problem is, he can’t trumpet like the rest of his family. In fact, poor Louis is mute – he can’t make a sound. This makes life difficult when he wants to trumpet his love to the beautiful Serena. Without the ability to trumpet, Serena ignores him. That doesn’t stop Louis though. He even goes to school to learn to read and write with the help of a boy names Sam. When that doesn’t work, his father steals him a real brass trumpet. Ultimately, he wins the love (and freedom) of the beautiful Serena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

220px-TheBorrowers

The Borrowers Series by Mary Norton

Ever wonder what happens to those missing bobby pins, pens and paper clips that seem to disappear into thin air? You might just have borrowers – tiny little people that live in the walls of your house and “borrow” things. There are five books in the series: The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield, The Borrows Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft and The Borrowers Avenged. The books follow the adventures of Pod, Homily and their teenaged daughter, Arrietty Clock. The stories revolve around the Clocks and the “human beans” of whom Pod and Homily are very afraid, but Arrietty is very curious. Her curiosity precipitate many of the adventures in these books. I spent a lot of time hoping the borrowers might really exist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

emily of new moon

Emily of New Moon trilogy by L.M. Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables are the best known books from L.M. Montgomery, and as much as I liked those, I really loved the Emily of New Moon series. Anne just seemed a little too good to be true to me. Emily, on the other hand, had a little attitude going on! The trilogy includes Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. After her widowed father dies, Emily is sent to live with her Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Laura Murray and her cousin Jimmy of New Moon Farm. The author, L.M. Montgomery admitted that Emily was much closer to her own personality than Anne was, and some of the events in the books really did happen to the author. The three books follow Emily through her school years until she finds both love and success as an author. I absolutely LOVED Emily and her friends Ilse, Perry and Teddy. I really wish they had made a movie from these books too! :)

 

 

 

 

 

the secret garden

The Secret Garden

I probably read this book a dozen times when I was growing up. I absolutely LOVED it! When a cholera epidemic sweeps through an area of India, 10-year-old Mary Lennox is the only survivor. Her parents have left all her upbringing to servants with the result that Mary is extremely spoiled. This results in a very bad temper, anger and rudeness. She is sent to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven. At first, Mary is her usual self, sour, disliking the large house, the people within it, and most of all the vast stretch of moor, which seems scrubby and gray after the winter. Her temperament begins to change when she meets Martha Sowerby, her good-natured maidservant, Ben Weatherstaff the gardener and friendly robin. Mary also is intrigued by the stories of the late Mrs. Craven’s garden which was shut up after her untimely death. Mary is also intrigued by the crying she hears during the night which turns out to be Colin, who is a spoiled invalid and her cousin. When the two meet, Colin finds he has met his match in Mary. Together the two find the secret garden, and Colin begins to heal as he experiences the wonders of nature, fresh air and fun. Who doesn’t love a secret and this book had me wishing for my own secret garden!

Everybody knows reading is good for kids, but knowing and doing are two different things! So, what can you do to set up your child for success? Below are 10 ideas to encourage the book habit in your child.

Young Preschooler Reading A Book

1. Model it. I know, you’re busy and it seems the only time you have enough time to read a book is in the bathroom, but if you always talk about reading but never do it yourself, your child won’t think books are very important either. It’s kind of like the whole vegetable thing.

2. Make time for it. Reading takes time. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but if your daughter has dance, plays soccer and has voice lessons in addition to going to school and trying to do homework, when is there time to read? If we want our kids to read, we have to make enough room in their schedules so they actually have time to relax with a good book.

3. Visit the library regularly. Get your child a library card and make sure he uses it. Make going to the library to find new books a regular part of your schedule. Many libraries also have fun programs for young kids through teenagers to encourage reading.

4. Give audio books a try. I know audio books are not technically reading, but a child who gets hooked on a series through an audio book is more likely to read the next book in the series just so they can see what happens next. Getting kids to love stories is a great way to get them to love reading. Audio books are a great way to do that, especially for the child who finds reading more difficult. And who doesn’t love to be read to?

5. Don’t discount non-fiction. Often, when we think of reading, we automatically head for the fiction books, but not every kid likes fiction (it hurt me to type those words, btw ;)). My oldest son does not like to read fiction. He will, however, pick up an autobiography of an athlete or coach or a biography of a historical figure. If your child has an interest in a specific topic, make sure to visit the non-fiction area of the library.

6. Make technology your friend. Don’t be afraid to explore new ways of reading books with your child. If he is attached to his iPod, get him an mp3 downloadable book he can listen to. Kindle apps are available for iPhones, iPads and other technology. (just one warning – while many free downloadable books are great, some have some very questionable content, so just be sure you are aware of what your child is actually downloading!).

7. Read a book with your child. Not sure about a book? Read it at the same time as your child and then talk about it. Not only will you be aware of what your son or daughter is reading, but you’ll have the opportunity to have some great conversations.

8. Got a question – find a book. Does your child wonder why the sky is blue or how electricity works? There’s a book that can tell him. If you have a question, chances are there is a book that answers it. If we don’t mess it up, kids like to learn. Tap into their natural curiosity by tying it to finding a book that satisfies that curiosity!

9. Let it just be for fun. If your child is in middle school, they probably are a part of the AR program. I also know that teachers want kids to improve their reading skills by reading at or a little above their reading level, but if your child struggles to read finding a story that is easier for them makes reading much more fun. That’s a connection you want to make for kids. If it always feels like work, they will never look at it as something they want to do.

10. Bribe them. Every summer, I told my kids that if they read at least one book a week (and the amount depends on your child’s reading level), they would get a reward at the end of the summer. If you are creative or have young children, you can pull out all the stops and use charts and stickers to keep track or make the rewards more frequent for young attention spans.

Happy Reading,
Rosanne