One of my not-so-secret ambitions in recent years has been to write a talking animal story. There are actually a lot of different variations on the talking animal, ranging from xenofiction (where the animals behave as they actually would in real life, and this is reflected in their thought processes) to animals that simply stand in for humans (as they do in a recent book I read, El Deafo). For more information about the different types of animal stories out there, I’d recommend falling down the rabbit hole over at TV Tropes, but for now, I’ll do a countdown list of my five favorite books featuring talking animals, which range all over the spectrum!
5. The Guardians of Ga’Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky
Ohhhh, man. This one sparked off a frenzy when I was in middle school. I’m pretty sure this series, featuring civilized owls, was all I wanted to read for a while. The main character, Soren, is a barn owl, who eventually ends up at the Great Tree and becomes a collier, playing a pivotal role throughout the series, but especially in fighting a group of power-hungry barn owls for the freedom of owlkind. (Of course, there is a film version, and it’s cute, but not as good as I wanted it to be.)
4. The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
There are two separate characters in these books that are talking animals, though I’m not sure either of them actually qualifies. Mogget, a white cat, is a servant of the Abhorsen, and is actually a spirit contained by a bell, without which he’d likely run rampant. By the end though, he has some loyalty to the rest of the characters. The other is the Disreputable Dog, who is a similar sort of creature to Mogget. It’s been a while since I’ve read these books, but I remember the Dog being my favorite character: smart, friendly, and funny, not to mention mysterious and possibly dangerous. Her final scene at the end of Abhorsen is so poignant it still makes me cry.
3. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness
MANCHEEEEEEE. Manchee, the dog, is one of the cutest and funniest talking animals I’ve ever read, and it’s all because of the book’s premise. New World, the setting, has a pathogen in the air that makes the thoughts of all the inhabitants audible, and also has the side effect of giving the animals the ability to talk, if brokenly. Manatee’s most frequent dialogue is some variation on “Poo, Todd,” which Todd mocks in the very first line of the novel before they become closer. Manchee is one of the most loyal dogs you could ask for, and all I ask is that if you read this novel, DO NOT go after the author. That’s all.
2. Pax by Sara Pennypacker
This is a gorgeous and heartbreaking novel featuring the dual points of view of a boy and his fox. The fox, Pax, doesn’t actually speak aloud, but the author does a magnificent job of giving the reader a glimpse into the psyche of a fox. Pax’s perspective is extremely sensory, and his thoughts and perception of the world around him feel very true, even if I don’t know what it’s like to be a fox and communicate through a combination of thought and gesture.
1. Firebringer by David Clement-Davies
The deer-centric Watership Down that, to me, reads like an epic fantasy such as LOTR crossed with WWII (which, I realize, is sort of what LOTR was in the first place). The novel follows a band of Scottish red deer forced from their home after Rannoch is born with the mark of a white oak leaf on his forehead, positioning him as the chosen one of a long-held deer prophecy. Deer-centric mythology and magic are created in this story, and (at least for me) they combine with the realism and themes also present in the novel to form a narrative that is huge in scope and world, even though it’s filtered through a small herd of deer on the run. I can’t do this book justice.
Runners-Up: East (polar bear), Pearls of Lutra (varied animals), Brambleheart (chipmunks), Nuts to You (squirrels), True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp (raccoons), The Last Unicorn (unicorn)
To Read: The Plague Dogs (dogs), The Bees (bees), Three Bags Full (sheep).
Have any other animal fiction books you think I should read? Please let me know what they are!