J Animal Story

YOURS SINCERELY, GIRAFFE by Megumi Iwasa

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A bored giraffe asks a bored pelican to deliver a letter for him to the first animal he meets on the other side of the horizon. The first animal that Pelican meets is a mail seal who takes the letter to a penguin who is studying abroad on Whale Island. Thus an unusual friendship begins. Since Giraffe has never seen a penguin, he tries to imagine what Penguin might look like based on Penguin’s descriptions of himself. And eventually, the two friends will meet to see if their expectations were correct.

 A simple yet thought provoking story with both humor and heart.   This book is a quick read, but an enjoyable one. It will appeal most to elementary-aged readers.

INSPECTOR FLYTRAP by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

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Inspector Flytrap is a BIG DEAL detective. He only takes big deal cases. Missing pickle paper weight? Not a big deal. A caper at the art gallery?   Now that sounds more like it! With his trusty skateboard and his assistant goat, there’s no case too big for this plant!   So why don’t his clients seem grateful?…

 This very quick, very silly read features short chapters, comical illustrations, and a ridiculous plot that will most likely appeal to readers in grades 2 and 3.  It may grab some reluctant readers. It is unlikely, however, to appeal as much to older readers  or the established Origami Yoda fan base.   Although nominally a mystery, it is really just  humor.   If you’re looking for a humorous noir-style mystery series for younger readers, I would recommend the Chet Gecko  series–noting that the reading level on Chet Gecko is slightly higher.

HERO by Sarah Lean

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Leo feels that he is not good at anything. His parents seem so proud of his siblings for their intelligence and skills at sports, but all Leo is good at is daydreaming and being laughed at by the cool kids.  When a class presentation gone wrong causes Leo to accidentally injure his teacher, the coolest kid in the class, Warren, suddenly wants to be his friend. Trying to impress Warren and his friends, Leo participates in their pranks. But when the boys chase a little dog to the edge of a pond, Leo feels like their mischief has gone too far. He loses control of his bike and winds up in the pond, and the other boys abandon him. But the little dog helps to pull him out. Not wanting to admit to what he was doing, Leo makes up a story about how he rescued the dog from the pond. The story travels around town and Leo becomes a local hero. But in a real emergency, will Leo have the courage he needs to do the right thing?

This simple story about friendship is on a middle grade reading level, but will likely appeal to younger kids as well. The plot is not very high stakes or suspenseful, and the characters are largely archetypal, but those who enjoy realistic fiction, especially books about animals, will find it a quick and enjoyable read.

ONE DOG AND HIS BOY by Eva Ibbotson

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Hal has always longed for a dog.  His wealthy parents give him all of the toys and games a little boy could ever dream of, but a dog is all Hal has ever wanted.  Reluctant to allow a pet into their perfect home, Hal’s parents instead arrange to rent one for a weekend.  They tell Hal he can pick out any dog he wants and can keep it for as long as he likes (certain that he’ll be tired of it by the end of the weekend anyway).  But when Hal lays eyes on Fleck, an adorable mutt that the kennel maid snuck into the pure bred pet rental shop, he falls instantly in love–and Fleck feels the same.  When Hal’s mother takes Fleck back to the shop, Hal decides to steal Fleck back and flee to his grandparents’ house by the sea.  At the pet rental shop, he runs into the kennel maid’s little sister, Pippa, who decides that they should rescue all of Fleck’s friends, too.  And so, two humans and five dogs begin an epic adventure across England with a team of private detectives hot on their trail.

This is a sweet, funny adventure story that will especially appeal to animal lovers (many scenes are described from the point of view of the dogs).  I would recommend it to children in grades 3-4.  The audiobook is also very good (performed by Steve West, reader of the Odyssey Award winning Scorpio Races audiobook).

THE PIG SCROLLS BY GRYLLUS THE PIG by Paul Shipton

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Gryllus was once a man, a soldier on the ship with Odysseus.  But when he and the famed hero wound up on Circe’s island Gryllus found himself transformed into a pig.  Although the rest of his comrades were changed back when Circe was defeated, Gryllus chose to remain a pig, leading a fairly happy life of eating, sleeping, eating, and eating.  But when his ability to speak is discovered, Gryllus finds himself abducted by traders and his wild adventures begin.  After a brief career in show business, Gryllus winds up on a quest with a junior prophetess named Sybil and a grubby goat boy who speaks only in nonsense syllables.  Sybil seems to believe that Gryllus and the goat boy (who Gryllus affectionately dubs “Bumscruff”) are the keys to saving the gods from captivity and preventing the world’s descent into chaos.  But as their adventures get increasingly absurd and dangerous, Gryllus grows increasingly eager to give up on the whole “saving the world” business and instead start a quest for some delicious pie.

This book is incredibly silly and funny.  There are lots of puns and Greek mythology-related humor that will be particularly accessible to readers who are interested in Greek mythology or the Percy Jackson books.  There is some action and suspense in this story, but it is much heavier on the humor so not an exact read-alike for Rick Riordan—though some of the same readers may be interested.  I’d recommend The Pig Scrolls to middle grade readers who like humorous books such as How to Train Your Dragon.  

BAD KITTY: DRAWN TO TROUBLE by Nick Bruel

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I don’t blog every new Bad Kitty book, but I think Nick Bruel’s latest deserves a special shout-out.  Bad Kitty: Drawn to Trouble follows in the metaliterary tradition of stories like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) where the author reaches into the story and messes with the actions of his self-aware characters. In this case, Bruel uses the humorous scenario to teach readers about literature and the art of writing–and to encourage them to become writers themselves. Elementary school teachers hoping to introduce their classes to concepts like “conflict,” “protagonist,” or “the difference between plot and theme” should definitely check this book out!

MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

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The first time Timothy fell ill, he had been a tiny mouseling and Jonathan Frisby had still been alive.  But when Timothy falls ill with pneumonia, the widowed Mrs. Frisby must care for Timothy all on her own.  The doctor mouse, Mr. Ages, advises Timothy to stay in bed for at least another month.  Unfortunately, the Spring comes early and the Frisbys will be forced to move out of their home in the field before the farmer begins to plow. Fearing that the move will kill Timothy, Mrs. Frisby is prepared to take drastic measures to find a solution to her problem–even if it means visiting the wise old owl in his lair in the forest.  But the meeting with the bird of prey is nothing like Mrs. Frisby expected.  Although the owl is initially unwilling to help her, as soon as he learns her husband’s name, his demeanor changes.  He advises her to visit the colony of rats living in the rosebush and to tell them her husband’s name.  Confused, Mrs. Frisby does as the owl says.  What she finds behind the rosebush is beyond anything she has ever dreamed, and she quickly learns that the rats of Nimh are no ordinary rats–and Jonathan Frisby was no ordinary mouse.

It is clear why this book has remained so popular for so long.  The winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal is a brilliantly imagined book with an intricate and creative animal world and a thread of mystery and suspense that keeps the reader engaged to the very end.   Through the actions of Mrs. Frisby’s family and the rats of Nimh, O’Brien illustrates the value of love, friendship, and self-sacrifice.  I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy animal stories, the inventors/scientists/gadgets side of science fiction, and stories where strong but ordinary characters act heroically.

If you liked Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, you might like MousenetI, Freddy, Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Ratand Babe: the Gallant Pig.