I like dogs. I like dogs a lot. I even like some boys. But I think we can all agree that the general "boy and his dog" story-line has been done to death at this point. There are plenty of books about dogs out there. There are books about boys helping dogs and books about dogs helping boys, usually ending with the tragic, premature death of said helpful dogs. But dogs are not the only kind of animal, and boys are not the only kind of person. Here are a few funny, weird, and heartfelt books for animal lovers that do not center around a boy-and-dog relationship.
I mean, I can only speak for myself, but I am, in fact, a girl who has (tragically) never been able to own a dog. Instead, I have had to make do with a turtle, four rats, and two cats over the years (plus that time that a family of pigeons took up residence in the storage unit on my porch). So, while I enjoyed my fair share of dog-boy books back in the day, I am always searching for animal books that explore some of the other branches of the animal kingdom:
'Grayson' by Lynne Cox Grayson is the story of a girl and her whale. Or rather, Grayson is the true story of legendary swimmer Lynne Cox, and the one time that she risked her life to bring a baby whale back to his mother. It's beautifully written, genuinely tense, and ultimately (spoiler alert) heartwarming. Click here to buy. 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald
If you've ever considered taking up extreme falconry as a way of coping with the death of a loved one, then you need to read
H is for Hawk. Helen Macdonald's humorous, gut-wrenching memoir explores the realities of bird-taming and grief while weaving in the myth and history that surrounds the terrifying goshawk. Click here to buy. 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' by Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary Cooke grew up with two parents, one brother, and a sister. Everyone seems to get hung up on the fact that her sister was, in fact, a chimpanzee. But to Rosemary, the narrator of this extraordinary novel, Fern was her high-energy, non-human twin... until that one morning when Fern was "removed" from the household, and Rosemary thrust out into the human world all by herself.
Click here to buy. 'The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir' by Alice Walker
Why yes, this is a chicken memoir written by celebrated author Alice Walker. No, it's not nearly as intense as some of her other work. But if you're in the mood for a series of short, philosophical musings on the life of chickens by one of America's greatest writers, then
The Chicken Chronicles has got you covered. Click here to buy. 'Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World' by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter
Dewey was found as a kitten in the "returned books" slot of the Spencer Public Library. He was just a few weeks old and half dead with frostbite. Lucky for little Dewey, though, he was discovered by library director Vicki Myron, who wasn't in such a great place herself at the time.
Dewey is the classic story of a library director and her cat, and the healing power of helping an animal in need. Click here to buy. 'Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity' by David Kirby
If you like your animal stories a little less heartwarming and a little more stomach-churning, pick up
Death at SeaWorld. It's a work of nonfiction that reads like a thriller, as David Kirby delves into the abuse of killer whales in captivity, and the human deaths that have resulted from it. Click here to buy. 'Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds' by Joy Adamson
Elsa the lion was raised in captivity, and eventually transitioned back into a life in the wild. That may not sound like one of the most sweeping, life-changing stories of all time, but
Born Free will have you sobbing hysterically over this one lion and her journey and the people she loved along the way. Click here to buy. 'Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl' by Stacey O'Brien
Any kid who grew up with
Harry Potter also grew up with the desperate desire to own a pet owl. Biologist Stacey O'Brien lived that dream. This funny, poignant memoir recounts her life with Wesley, from his start as a fluffy, injured baby owlet to a huge, macho adult with a out-sized personality all his own. Click here to buy. 'The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories' by Ken Liu
OK, I'm cheating a little here, because the animals in
The Paper Menagerie are not exactly literal animals. Ken Liu's gorgeous collection of short stories dips into the realms of sci-fi and magical realism. But these paper beasts are still living creatures after a fashion, and The Paper Menagerie is an absolutely stunning story of identity, parenthood, and animated paper tigers. Click here to buy. 'In the Shadow of Man' by Jane Goodall
You can't talk about animal books without talking about Jane Goodall. One of the best known primatologists of all time, Jane Goodall also happens to be an incredible writer. She illuminates the life and soul of chimpanzees, with
In the Shadow of Man as her first groundbreaking look at humanity's first cousins. Click here to buy. 'Last Chance to See' by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
Only the great Douglas Adams could write a nonfiction book about animals on the verge of extinction and make it quite so hilarious, devastating, and thrilling all at once. He and zoologist Mark Carwardine traveled across the globe to visit and advocate for critically endangered animals, and this record of their journey is full of humor and wonder in equal measure.
Click here to buy. 'The Peregrine' by J.A. Baker
You're not going to get a
whole lot of plot out of The Peregrine. But you will get an exceptionally nuanced and poetic look at the inner life of peregrine falcons. Part science writing and part lyrical meditation, The Peregrine will help you to finally understand why some people like bird watching. Click here to buy. 'Fire Bringer' by David Clement-Davies Fire Bringer finally answers that age-old question: what if Bambi was crossed with Game of Thrones? It's an epic fantasy about deer. Like, the deer are the main characters and they communicate with each other and make prophecies and have bloody power struggles with other deer. So if you're looking for a fun woodland romp that also involves murder and political intrigue, Fire Bringer is your dream come true. Click here to buy. 'Homer's Odyssey' by Gwen Cooper
When Gwen Cooper first adopted Homer as a tiny, eyeless kitten, she was warned that he would never be as playful or as independent as a "normal" cat. But Homer, being a cat, did exactly as he pleased: he grew up to be a wild, lovable daredevil. He also survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and he once saved his human's life by driving off an intruder, and you can read all about him in
Homer's Odyssey. Click here to buy. 'The Bees' by Laline Paull
And then, of course, there's the greatest dystopia novel ever to be set in a beehive. Laline Paull's
The Bees follows lowly Flora 717 as she works her way up from sanitation bee to forager to the Queen's inner sanctum. The more she sees of the world, however, the more Flora dares to question the sacred laws of her kind in this chilling, fascinating look at the inner world of bees. Click here to buy.