The 8 best animals in books
This week, the British Library in London launches Animal Tales, an exhibition celebrating animals in literature. (http://www.bl.uk). They’re featuring adults’ and children’s books, with animal noises, first editions and a woodland setting in the entrance hall. What’s more, it’s free. This lovely idea inspired us to list our own favourite literary animals…
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
The much-loved children’s classic was narrated by the noble horse who told the story of his life as a colt on an English farm – his days pulling a cab in gas-lit London, and the hardships and triumphs along the way. A lesson in animal welfare and still the reason why so many girls fall in love with horses.
Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Perhaps the best-loved children’s tale of all time, this charming picture book tells the tale of the naughty little rabbit who escaped into Mr McGregor’s garden and ate the lettuces. He was forced to hide in a watering can. Serious jeopardy and beautiful illustrations make it timeless.
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s marvellous story of the cunning and charming Mr Fox, who lives underground with his wife and four cubs. In search of food, he steals chickens from the dim-witted farmers nearby, setting off a train of revenge. It ends, gloriously, with the animals establishing an underground kingdom and out-foxing the farmers.
Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson
This gentle novel traces the story of the otter, born on the River Torridge, who loses his fellow cub in a trap (tears!) and is separated from his mother (weeping!). He swims on alone, meeting mates, fathering cubs and the story culminates in the terror of the otter-hunt. Unsentimental and poetic, this 1920’s tale remains much-loved.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The definitive rabbit adventure novel (if we needed one, which apparently we did). This huge novel tells the story of a group of rabbits who are forced to leave their warren and find a new home, finding adventure, terror and challenges along the way.
Art Garfunkel’s hit song ‘Bright Eyes’ was used to soundtrack the film and can still jerk the odd tear…
Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh
Now obscure but beloved by those who read this trilogy about an escaped witch’s cat called Carbonel, found by Rosemary, a little girl with pluck and kindness, who tried to release him from his owner’s spell. Carbonel is, it transpires, a deposed king of cats, who must recover his kingdom, where the meeting spaces are back gardens and the roads are suburban garden walls. Enchanting.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Voted the best loved children’s book of all time, this charming novel tells the story of Wilbur – a pig – and his unusual friendship with a spider called Charlotte who lives in his barn. She saves his life by spinning messages in her web and Wilbur ends up the star of the country fair. But exhausted Charlotte tragically dies, leaving Wilbur to befriend her tiny offspring… (Sob!)
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
This all-time classic follows the adventures of the animals of the riverbank and the Wild Wood, fussy mole, lazy, hedonistic ratty and the outrageous Mr Toad; a perfect study of narcissism, charm and self-delusion, which makes him no less loveable, racketing round the countryside in his new car, and disguising himself as a washerwoman to escape from prison. Lyrical writing and unforgettable characters make it a book that all children (and grown-ups) should read.