J Animal Story

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.

WOLF BROTHER by Michelle Paver

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Torak can remember the exact moment that his life changed.  He and Fa had been setting up camp, happy and laughing, when the bear exploded from the forest—the great demon bear that no hunter could destroy—and attacked Fa.  Numb with shock and grief, Torak swears to Fa’s dying request.  He will find the mountain of the World Spirit that no man has ever seen.  He will trust the guide that the spirits send him, whoever or whatever it may be.  And he will stay away from the clans, avoiding people at all costs, so that they do not hinder him.  He will fulfill his quest or die trying.

The guide is certainly not what Torak expected.  Almost as soon as Torak finds the orphaned wolf cub, he feels a connection between them.  Though he does not know how, Torak can communicate with the wolf, understanding his wolf speech and speaking back with grunts, whines, and growls.  Realizing that the wolf must be his guide, Torak follows the cub through the forest, hoping that the young wolf will lead him to the mountain of the World Spirit.  But Torak forgets his father’s hunting advice—“Look behind you, Torak”—and before his quest is fully underway, he is captured by hunters from the Raven clan.   Yet if he had not been captured, he never would have met Renn, learned about the prophecy, or discovered the secrets of his father’s past and the demon bear.  Now, Torak is more determined than ever to find the mountain of the World Spirit—but first he must escape the clutches of the Ravens. . . .

I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough!  Sir Ian McKellen’s narration is phenomenal.  The story itself is dark, suspenseful, and very exciting.  It has all of the story elements you could ask for: action, mystery, complex and evolving characters, friendships and rivalries, puzzles to solve, and evil to defeat.  I especially recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction and/or high fantasy and to dog lovers. Wolf Brother is the first in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.

If you liked Wolf Brother, you might like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, or Dreamwood by Heather Mackey.

EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT by Lynne Jonell

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Emmy used to be happy, back when people noticed her, before her parents got rich and forgot she existed, traveling sometimes for months at a time and leaving Emmy with her terrible new nanny, Miss Barmy.  Now the students in her class seem to look right through her; her teacher can’t even remember her name.  In fact, the only creature who notices Emmy is her class pet rat–and for some reason, Emmy can hear him speak.  One day, in a fit of rebelliousness, Emmy sets her rat free and decides to skip her gymnastics class and explore her town instead.  That is how she happens upon Professor Vole’s rodent shop and sees Miss Barmy place a mysterious, secret order for rodents.  What’s more, she finds a caged rat in the shop that is identical to the rat she set free.  And the twin rat, along with all of the other rodents, are labeled with strange special powers.  Sure that something sinister is happening, Emmy is determined to find out the secret of the rats and to stop Miss Barmy and Professor Vole from whatever evil they might be plotting.  Unfortunately, Miss Barmy is on to her and it will take all of Emmy’s cleverness–and a lot of help from her friends Joe and the Rat–to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

This book is a fun, silly, and suspenseful story.  It has plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep you turning pages, as long as you have a taste for the absurd and unbelievable.  Personally, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to middle grade readers who like fantasy set in the real world.

If you liked Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat ,you might also like Mousenet and Whales on Stilts

EMMALINE AND THE BUNNY by Katherine Hannigan

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Emmaline does not fit in on Shipshape Street in her hometown of Neatasapin.  Mayor Orson Oliphant demands that everything be neat and tidy.  He bans dirt and trees and wild animals and anything that could make a mess.  But Emmaline loves dirt.  She loves digging.  She loves hopping and shouting.  And most of all, Emmaline loves bunnies.  She wants a bunny more than anything in the world.  And when she realizes she will never be able to have a hoppy, dirty bunny in Neatasapin, she ventures out into the Untidy wilderness to find one. 

Emmaline and the Bunny is a short and cute chapter books for young readers (grades 2-3).  The fable-like tone of the story and its simple social message remind me of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. Readers who enjoy the spunky Junie B. Jones may like Emmaline as a character.  If you liked Emmaline and the Bunny, I would definitely recommend Katherine Hannigan’s longer (and in my opinion, better) novel, Ida B . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World.

BABE: THE GALLANT PIG by Dick King Smith

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When Farmer Hogget wins a piglet at the fair, he isn’t quite sure what to do with it.  Mrs. Hogget is excited for the prospect of a nice ham at Christmas.  But the piglet, Babe, has other ideas.  After watching his adopted mother, the sheepdog, do her work and befriending one of the sheep himself, Babe discovers that he has a talent as a sheep pig.  When Farmer Hogget notices the same talent, he begins to get new ideas for the pig’s future.

This classic story is short and sweet, with a touch of humor.  Readers who enjoy animal stories will love reading about Babe and his friends on the farm.  Babe would also make a great family read aloud. 

If you liked Babe, you might like I, Freddy, Mousenet, or The Incredible Journey.

(Also, the 1995 film adaptation of the same name is truly excellent–very close to the book with just a bit of added drama.)

MOUSENET by Prudence Breitrose

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When an inventor created the world’s smallest computer–the Thumbtop–the Mouse Nation knew that they were about to enter a new age.  Finally, a computer that was the perfect size for a mouse to operate!  No more jumping back and forth across the letters on a keyboard!  No more skulking around after the humans went to sleep!  At last, the mice would take their rightful place in the technological age, along side their intellectual equals, the humans.  That is, if they are able to win over the inventor’s niece, Megan, and establish the world’s first human-mouse alliance.

Mousenet was a light read.  There was very little suspense or major obstacles for the characters to overcome, and most tasks that the characters undertook seemed to work out unbelievably smoothly.  In addition, the environmental message was incorporated slightly clumsily and came off as heavy-handed.  Still, the Mouse Nation the author created was a fun fantasy to imagine and the characters themselves were overall believable and likeable.  I would recommend this to readers in grades 4-6 who enjoy animal stories.

If you liked Mousenet, you might also enjoy Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell, Freddy by Dietlof Reiche or Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King Smith.