Six Gripping Stories about Wild Animals
Published on: 03 April 2023
Zana Fraillon, author of The Way of Dog, shares her favourite books that centre wild animals.
There is something incredibly freeing and exciting about entering the inner world of an animal. Perhaps it is our human desire to be wild again, to enter the feral, unknown wilderness that society keeps pushed to the margins of the maps. Perhaps it is that urge one feels to connect with our untamed, undomesticated selves. To follow the fairy stories deep into the dark of the forest where we can untether ourselves from our human skins and step – padfooted, furred, clawed and fanged, and remember again the scent of the night wind, the taste of moonlight on our tongues, and the sussurus of whispering lichen… The inner world of an animal is alive with knowings gathered from senses that we humans have long forgotten how to use.
Young people, with their marvellous wide-open minds so primed to explore and discover and imagine, already remember what it is like to be Other. They play in the more-than-human world, and in that play, they exist within it. For young people, to step inside the world of an animal through books is to extend that joyous free play, and to follow another further into the wild, to discover new worlds they didn’t even know existed. I have always loved these books that follow the adventures of animals. I have always loved seeing the world from their eyes and noses and ears and skins. I love feeling deeply entangled in the worlds of our animal kin – worlds that feels so much fuller and more honest than the human-centred world we have built for ourselves.
The best part of writing The Way of Dog was in relearning how to de-human myself – learning how to see the world through my nose and tongue; how to feel myself connect again with the natural world. Thankfully, I have two very good guides who only require meals, a bed, and a daily bone in exchange for their teachings. Everything else, I learnt from books.
Here is a list of some of my favourite animal guides, and their wonderful human authors:
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
A wonderful, heart-wringing tale of the bond between a fox and his boy. Pax and Peter have the kind of relationship we all wish we had with an animal. They have an inseparable, unbreakable bond, understanding each other in ways that no one else does. Until one day, Peter is forced into releasing Pax back into the wild. What follows is the journey the two take to find one another against all odds. Alternating between Peter’s story and Pax’s story, the reader is invited to see the world through a fox’s skin. Reading this, I was reminded of The Yearling,and how the actions we are forced into do not define who we are and how we navigate the world.
The White Fox, written and illustrated by Jackie Morris
This is not a story told from the perspective of the fox, and yet it is one of the most beautiful examples I know of how stories can remind us of the connection that people have with the more-than-human world. The White Fox is the story of Sol, a lonely and troubled young boy, who feels lost in the city that he lives in with his father. When he encounters a white fox on the docks, Sol is determined to stop the authorities from shooting the fox. What follows is a stunningly beautiful story of family, of remembering those who are gone, and of all that the animal world can teach us. This is a story that feels alive within a reader’s chest.
A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
This is a fantastic story based on the true story of a grey wolf called Oregon 7, and later named Journey by the schoolchildren of Oregon. What I love about A Wolf Called Wander is how there are no human protagonists. There are humans who enter into the story briefly, but they are only mentioned as yet another danger that Wander and the other wolves must navigate in order to survive. Parry has done an immense amount of research in order to write Wander’s story, and it comes through in the details of wolfhood that infuse the story. Reading this, for a short time, I became wolf, and my wild self rejoiced.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This won the Newberry Medal in 2013. Told from the perspective of silverback gorilla, Ivan, kept in captivity in a mall, this is one that will have readers both laughing out loud and weeping. Ivan’s personality – his intelligence and unique view of the world is utterly captivating. The One and Only Ivan is a heart-warming, and ultimately uplifting tale, highlighting both the cruelty of humans, and the possibilities for real change that come when we attend to the voices of our animal kin.
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by the ever-brilliant Sir Terry Pratchett
This has to find a place on my list. This book was the winner of the Carnegie Medal, and was described by Carnegie judge Karen Usher as ‘an outstanding work of literary excellence… funny and irreverent, but also dark and subversive’. Taking the tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin and expertly twisting it to tell the perfect heist story from the point of view of the rats and cat, The Amazing Maurice shows how powerful fantasy books can be. The observations of the world as seen through the eyes of the animals is, while ridiculously humorous, incredibly insightful, and in typical Pratchett fashion, deals with profound themes.
Moon Bear by Gill Lewis
And finally, a list of my favourite books of animal stories would not be complete without recommending any and all books by the amazing Gill Lewis. Gill Lewis has dedicated her life to crafting beautifully told, engaging and heartfelt stories about animals. I was first introduced to her work through the mesmerising Moon Bear, and have since devoured everything that she has written to date.
This list could go on and on! I dearly wanted to mention books by Melvin Burgess, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Hannah Gold among others, and Coo by Kaela Noel – which I am part way through and absolutely loving! There aren’t many books I can think of that take on the voice of a flock of pigeons, and this does so in an utterly believable way.
The Way of Dog by Zana Fraillon, illustrated by Sean Buckingham, is out now.
Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 17 titles.