J Animal Story

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.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY by Sheila Burnford

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When a Canadian family travels to Europe for six months, they must leave their three pets–an old bull terrier, a young Labrador retriever, and a Siamese cat–in the care of a friend who lives several hundred miles East of the family’s home.  While the bull terrier and the Siamese cat settle into life with their new caretaker, the Labrador is restless.  He knows that he is far from home and longs to be with his family again.  So, when the opportunity presents itself, he leads his two companions to escape from their caretaker and journey across the Canadian wilderness toward home.  But with bears, porcupines, and other hazards to face along the way, all three animals may not make it home alive.

The Incredible Journey is the book on which the film Homeward Bound was based.  The book is less humorous than the movie, but it is filled with the same adventure and heartwarming moments.  The imagery is dense and the reading level may be above the interest level.  But the book would make a great family read aloud for families who have pets or love animals and have children in grades 2-5.

If you liked The Incredible Journey, you might like Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King Smith.

THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by Kate DiCamillo

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Edward Tulane is a finely crafted china rabbit who belongs to a girl called Abilene.  He is very proud of his craftsmanship and his fancy clothes and spends most of his time thinking about how wonderful he is.  Although Abilene loves him, Edward doesn’t love anyone but himself.  When Abilene’s grandmother tells a story about a witch who cast a horrible spell on a selfish man because he didn’t know how to love, Edward doesn’t think the story has anything to do with him.  But when Abilene takes him along on an ocean voyage and he falls overboard, Edward realizes that the witch’s curse may have affected him as well.  So begins Edward’s incredible journey through the ocean and on land as his adventures teach him how to love.

Winner of a Christopher Award for “affirming high values of the human spirit,” this simple novel reads like a fairy tale. Although on the reading level for 3rd-4th graders, it would make a great read-aloud for younger children in grades K-2 as well. 

If you liked The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you might also like The Velveteen Rabbit, which has a similar tone and message.  If you are up for a longer read,  you may enjoy The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

BAD KITTY FOR PRESIDENT by Nick Bruel

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When Old Kitty retires as president of the Neighborhood Cat Club, all of the kitties, from both the Left and the Right sides of the street are vying for his position.  After the primaries (a rigorous round of baby-kissing), Kitty is nominated to represent the Right in a fierce contest with the Left’s candidate, Big Kitty.  After both Kitty and Big Kitty fail to get an endorsement from Old Kitty, they begin their campaigns in earnest.  But will a snazzy website and mudslinging TV ads be enough to win Kitty the election?

Bad Kitty for President is a great read for election year.  One of the more educational of the Bad Kitty books, the story includes a fairly detailed description of the election process, including definitions of key election-related terms.  And of course, the story is hilarious, narrated as though the author is speaking to the cat, advising and admonishing her as her devious mind comes up with new schemes.  I am convinced that all cats are as devious as Bad Kitty.  I highly recommend the Bad Kitty series to 3rd-4th grade readers who enjoy humor and/or animal stories.

LOST: A DOG CALLED BEAR by Wendy Orr

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Logan’s dog, Bear, has always been his best friend.  The two of them love playing together on Logan’s parents’ farm.  But when Logan’s parents separate and sell the farm, Bear will have to move to a house in the mountains with Logan’s dad while Logan and his mom go to live in the city.  Logan and Bear are both so upset with the prospect of losing each other, that Logan’s parents agree to let Bear move to the city with Logan.  During the drive, however, Bear escapes from the car and gets lost.  In a new city, Logan doesn’t know where to begin to find his lost friend.  Meanwhile, Hannah has always wanted a dog.  When a lost dog finds its way into her dad’s pick-up truck, Hannah finds herself at the Rainbow Street Animal Shelter.  In the process of trying to find the lost dog’s family, Hannah discovers an opportunity to volunteer with many animals in need of love.

This first book of the Rainbow Street Shelter series is sweet and uplifting.  The series will likely appeal to 2nd-4th graders who love animals and stories about animals.

I, FREDDY by Dietlof Reiche

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Freddy the Golden Hamster was born in captivity in a pet shop, and his great grandmother often told him of the Golden Hamster Saga—the desire of every Golden Hamster to reach Golden Hamster utopia in the Middle East.  Freddy’s brothers and sisters may be content to wait for this utopia until the Eternal Hibernation, but Freddy is determined to find happiness on his own.  He is determined to escape.  After learning a few endearing tricks from watching monkeys on the nature channel, he endears himself to little Sophie and her dad, Gregory, and finds himself on his way to a new home.  Once there, however, he realizes he has a new problem to worry about.  Gregory and Sophie are great, but Mom is his mortal enemy.  Freddy continues to use his great intellect to dodge problems, to learn to read, the escape from his cage, and to communicate with humans.

This is the first of Freddy’s adventures in the Golden Hamster Saga.  He is a funny, clever narrator and a lot of fun to read.  These books are on a 3rd-4th grade interest level.

If you liked I, Freddy, you might also like Mousenet or Babe, the Gallant Pig.