In my opinion, there’s very little more satisfying than a ripping animal adventure story. Give me a book with animals who think and feel and act as compelling central characters, and all is right with the world. Take Watership Down for instance. It is one of those books that I could use as a “friend-tester.” You know – the book that you can give someone to read, and if they like it, you know that you probably have years of friendship ahead. If they don’t like it… well, you can just shake your head and wave goodbye (after you get your book back). Ah yes… a good animal story. You can’t beat it. In fact, I find that a good animal story will usually draw in even the most ambivalent reader.
But this post will not touch Watership Down. I will save that one for a day when I need to escape to my happy place. Today I offer my first SMART List (“Stop Messing Around and Read This” List). I am hesitant to say that a book is “guaranteed” to please, but SMART Lists will provide tidy selections of beautiful books that almost every sane person will love. The books will be presented in no particular order, and will be a glorious mish-mash of types, from picture books right up to teen fiction, and even the odd adult title. Every so often I will provide a close-up look at some of the best of the best from the SMART Lists. Then perhaps, a GENIUS list will follow?
SMART LIST #1: Classic Animal Adventure Stories
The Mouse and His Child – Russell Hoban (7+, great read-aloud)
James Herriot Treasury for Children (6+, great read-aloud)
Stone Fox – John Reynolds Gardiner (8+… sadness warning)
Babe the Gallant Pig – Dick King-Smith (7+, great read-aloud)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh – Robert C. O’Brien (9+)
Whittington – Alan Armstrong (9+)
The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips – Michael Morpurgo (9+)
Wolf Brother (Spirit Walker, Soul Eater and more to come) – Michelle Paver (10-12+)
Watership Down – Richard Adams (10-12+)
Silverwing, Sunwing, Firewing (and Fall 2007 = Darkwing…goodie) – Kenneth Oppel (10-12+)
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman (12+)
Life of Pi – Yann Martel (teen)
How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff (teen) (Ok… not really an animal adventure story, but there is a dear goat in it named “Ding” who will change the way you look at goats forever. I swear. And they spend a lot of time in a barn. This book will find a way onto as many SMART Lists as I can manage until the world has recognized its perfection. Just read it).