25 Books Every Animal-Lover Should Read, Because Who Can Resist Adorable Pals In The Pages?
Are you the kind of person who's watched grumpy cat's rise to fame with hope and expectation? Do you stop as often to listen to the songbirds as you do to smell the roses? And does your faithful hound currently sport a warmer winter jacket than you do? If this sounds familiar, then your TBR pile is about to get a whole lot bigger: These 25 books bring the best stories from the animal kingdom right to you.
From legendary YA masterpieces, to novels of depth and high drama, these literary knockouts have exactly what you love: animals. Gather up your feline friend, or scootch that dog bed a wee bit closer, and settle in for a cozy read with some of literature's greatest animal stories.
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'The One and Only Ivan' by Katherine Applegate
Told from the perspective of Ivan, a captive gorilla with a good two decades of zoo occupancy under his belt, The One and Only Ivan is a tender story of friendship, discovery, and the fragile nature of identity. With grace, humor, and an open heart, Applegate’s novel explores big questions by introducing Ivan to a newly captive elephant named Ruby, and the ensuing drama is more than enough to keep any animal-loving reader enraptured for days on end.
'Moby-Dick' by Herman Melville
Herman Melville’s classic tale of Captain Ahab’s relentless hunt for the great white whale is surely one of the greatest sealife stories ever told. So, whether or not you’ve ever taken bait to hook yourself, take this opportunity to sail the high seas with the crew of the Pequod and transport your love of animals to another time and place altogether.
'Carmen Dog' by Carol Emshwiller
Like a surrealist, feminist reworking of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Carol Emshwiller’s funny, farcical, utterly fabulous novel Carmen Dog pushes the idea of transmutation to the very brink. As Pooch makes the transition from loyal golden setter to beautiful blond bombshell, the world is turned on its head, and hijinks any animal-lover can appreciate most certainly ensue.
'White Fang' by Jack London
Told almost entirely from the perspective of the young canine White Fang, Jack London’s classic story of the great white north, the living creatures who roam it, and the trials and travails of one loan pup among men is truly a work of literary genius. London’s fierce, piercing prose perfectly captures White Fang’s inner life, and the novel manages to be both highly realistic and utterly fanciful as adventure sweeps the reader along.
'Desperate Characters' by Paula Fox
The entire plot of Paula Fox’s epic saga of love, marriage, and getting on with life hinges upon a feral cat that bites the hand of the one who feeds it, setting in motion a series of small, unfortunate events that change the course of one couple’s history. Anyone who’s ever been nipped while trying to pet a feline friend will appreciate this ingenious novelistic look at the darker and more mysterious side of the cat.
'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' by Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera’s effervescent experimental novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being elevates the character of Karenin the dog, endowing him with unrivaled symbolic power. Underpinning this vast love story set during the time of the Prague Spring, the tale of Karenin remains one of the most vital and compelling elements of this incredible novel.
'Charlotte's Web' by E.B.White
E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is not only one of the greatest children’s stories ever written, but also the single most sympathetic rendering of an arachnid in literature that I have yet to come across. As a story of the friendship that develops between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider as the two wily farm dwellers dream up ways to prevent Wilbur from being sent to the slaughterhouse, Charlotte’s Web is a young adult novel of remarkable compassion and genuine insight.
'Fudoki' by Kij Johnson
Fudoki is Kik Johnson’s masterful tale of magic, intrigue, mystery, and metempsychosis in ancient Japan. This unusual story follows a curious cat who embodies the soul of a philosopher-cum-warrior woman-cum-royal consort who may or may not be merely the figment of an empress’ imagination. She’s on an extraordinary journey that no animal-lover would want to miss.
'Julie of the Wolves' by Jean Craighead George
When Julie escapes her small Eskimo village only to find herself struggling for survival in the Alaskan wilderness, an accidental encounter with a frisky wolf cub will change her life forever. A thrilling alternative to Jack London’s tale of Northern hounds and the humans who live amongst them, Jean Craighead George’s remarkable novel belongs on any animal-lover’s list.
'Watership Down' by Richard Adams
Offering up a stirring message of environmental activism and community empowerment, Richard Adams’ Watership Down follows a courageous band of local woodland creatures as they struggle to save their home from degradation and destruction. Powerful, purposeful and brimming with heart, Watership Down is a classic for a reason.
'Runaway' by Alice Munro
Alice Munro’s quiet, meditative explorations of the intimate, the local, and the everyday are exquisite in their soulful specificity. Within this subtle framework for storytelling, pets take on a role both symbolic and pragmatic, and for the animal-lover who enjoys seeing her own beastly relationships represented, Runaway is truly something special.
'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame
If you haven’t seen the movie or gotten sick on the ride, surely you’ve heard the name The Wind in the Willows before. Grahame’s Gatsby-inspired story of Rat, Mole, and their very dear, very rich, and very foolish friend Toad is not only a literary classic, but also the inspiration for generations of children to get out and explore the world just outside their front doors.
'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling
Another story of man and wolf, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book brings us Mowgli, the young boy abandoned to the care of the jungle, raised by wolves, and ready for adventure. Daring and rousing, Kipling’s timeless tale is one of the rowdiest ways to spend some literary time indulging your love of animals.
'Redwall' by Brian Jacques
'The Trumpet of the Swan' by E.B. White
As the second E.B. White novel to make this list, The Trumpet of the Swan offers animal-lovers the curious, captivating story of one young swan who cannot summon a call, and the father who tries everything to give him a voice. Charming, heartwarming, and inspiring, The Trumpet of the Swan belongs on any animal-lover’s bedside table.
'Shiloh' by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
'Timbuktu' by Paul Auster
Taking on the tireless role of canine as narrator, Mr. Bones brings Paul Auster’s dark and teary story of Willy G. Christmas to life as he voices the tale of a journey back to an old home and on to a new one.
'Wild Ones' by Jon Mooallem
Jon Mooallem’s striking, subversive look at the American cultural understanding of animals begins as a brief historical exploration of America’s animal history, from the historical origins of the Teddy bear to the current struggle to save the whooping crane. Mooallem’s expansive study of humans looking at animals is well worth a look.
'Fantastic Mr. Fox' by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s whimsical, lovable, scrappy, subterranean family of foxes are in danger — wily Mr. Fox’s thieving ways have gotten him into trouble the whole family now has to face. For the animal-lover with small children or a nostalgia for childlike wonder, Roald Dahl’s charming tale is just the ticket.
'The Life of Pi' by Yann Martel
After debuting as a Hollywood blockbuster, The Life of Pi might not seem worth an actual old-fashioned read, but trust me — the languid prose and the quiet, steady pacing of the novel make the story well worth a peek for any animal-lover. Besides, how often do you get to conjure up the image of a tiger on a raft? That’s a treat for the mind’s eye right there.
'Sparky!' by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans
Jenny Offill takes on the world of children’s literature with this incredible story of one young girl’s pet sloth, Sparky. Bold, independent, endearing, and beautifully illustrated, Sparky! is the one children’s book every animal-lover should make sure to pick up.
'The White Bone' by Barbara Gowdy
Barbara Gowdy’s extensive research transforms this unnerving and inspiring work of speculative fiction from uncommon to extraordinary. Depicting a world in which elephants communicate vividly amongst themselves and share stories of past and present, Gowdy brings the reader into the inner life of the elephant in a shocking and satisfying reorganization of the world order.
'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman
One of the most inventive fantasy series of the past few decades, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials conjures up a world in which each person shares their consciousness and personal identity with an animal consort, a demon who is inextricably linked with the soul of the parent/host. As the first book of an epic saga that spans volumes, take up The Golden Compass with caution — you may find it nearly impossible to put down.