We Recommend: Inconsistent Animal-Lover’s Edition

It's We Recommend, in which we attempt to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good suggestions are in the comments.

Perhaps you remember a We Recommend from a long time ago, when a teacher wrote in asking for help selecting presents for some kids who were leaving her class? First of all, you guys rocked the recommendations, because the presents were apparently a hit. And, the teacher wrote in AGAIN asking for help. Can you even deal with what an awesome teacher this is? But I've got to warn you all: this one is a challenge.

I've got a boy, ten years old but young for his age, with some learning difficulties, sweet and loving and quirky and silly. His reading level varies from day to day, so it's hard to pin down, sometimes he'll struggle with Dr Seuss and some other days he'll read sentences out of Natural History books fluently. We'd like to get him reading chapter books, which he has resisted so far. My plan is to find an easy chapter book series that he just won't be able to resist – but I've no idea what that could be. He *loves* animals and wants to be 'a naturalist' when he grows up, and he also likes pirates and Star Wars.

Wow. And the nonfiction ones (at least sometimes) are easier than the fiction? Or at least the Dr. Seuss? Well it sounds like context helps. I'm going to go with the loving animals, and the naturalist side of things.

What's frustrating is that there are a whole lot of Junior Veterinarian and horse early chapter books, but they are pretty aggressively girl-oriented. I must say, he also makes me think of Hatchet, which is of course too hard. And of Trumpet of the Swan. The whole idea of wilderness and animals and all that. But a series is also requested (and with good reason, it sounds like) because if he is thrilled and inspired by one then the others will be all the more tempting.

But what?

I am thinking of Ranger Rick, to be honest. I know it's not a series, and it's not even a book, but it will entrance him I think, and there will be longer stories for when he's ready for that, and shorter ones for when things are not going that way. Though a quick look at the web site seems to indicate that Big Backyard might be easier.

OK, so here's what I'm doing—something I never do. I am going with an author I know, but a series I don't. I love Cynthia Rylant—she has the crazy ability to know what is compelling to kids. And these books look lovely, with a special emphasis on sea animals. That's right, it's the Lighthouse Series. (Sorry, the link is just for one, I couldn't find a good home for the whole series).

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I fear I may have traveled too far from his Star Wars and pirates love, but I couldn't think of the right thing. All the lovely woodsy E.B. White is too hard I think. And this does look really sweet.

But what I'm really getting at here is: hey excellent readers, got any suggestions? Put them in the comments (please!).

16 thoughts on “We Recommend: Inconsistent Animal-Lover’s Edition

  1. Oooh! I’ve got one!! I’ve been giving these books to every 4th grader I know: Nathaniel Fludd – Beastologist series by RL LaFevers. The 1st one is the Flight of the Phoenix. It is about a 10 year old boy in the 1920s whose parents (famous adventurers) have been declared lost at sea. He goes to live with his aunt (who is full of moxie), where he learns of the dual family legacy of map making and protecting all the beasts/mythical creatures of the world.
    The chapters are short, and there is a good smattering of pictures throughout to help with context, but the content is not babyish – just right for a 10 year old.

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  2. This may be too hard, but “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell? I don’t know, maybe WAY too hard, but delightful. I feel like it is multi-level– I got a reading-hating, animal-loving 16 year old boy to admit that he enjoyed it, but I read it myself as an 8 year old. (Even if the boy can’t read it maybe somebody can read it to him. Sorry, I really love that book).

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  3. There’s a truly wonderful children’s novel by Meindert DeJong called “The Almost All-White Rabbity Cat” which might appeal. The main character is Barney, who has to leave his barn full of rabbits when his parents move from the country to the city for work. Alone in the apartment all day, Barney is befriended by a neighbourly cat. Together they have some adventures and discover the outrageous secret pets kept by other inhabitants of the (no pets allowed) building.
    Also, “Justin Morgan had a Horse” by Marguerite Henry features a close friendship between a boy and a horse. I remember enjoying it.

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  4. I’m thinking The Blue Hill Meadows. I want to say the author is also Cynthia Rylant – but it’s been awhile. Lovely, wonderful. I think he’ll love it.

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  5. First thing that comes to mind is the Animorphs series. It’s about a bunch of kids who can all transform themselves into different animals. And then they get into various kinds of, you know, peril, and have adventures and save the world and stuff. I have to admit that I’ve never read one of them, but they were tremendously popular among the kids in my school library back in the day. Also, I have no idea if they’re even still in print, but I’d try him on them if they can be found.

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  6. Another idea: Dick King-Smith’s books. Lots of them, like The Sheep-Pig [on which the movie “Babe” was based], Three Terrible Trins, and others, are about animals. Not at all Star-Wars-ish (like Animorphs), but they’re nice and short, and very easy!
    Also: The World According to Humphrey, which is about a class hamster and his various misadventures. Funny and cute, and first in a series.

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  7. I just don’t have even one suggestion, but I love Cynthia Rylant so I had comment. I love her, and all my kids (students and biological) have always loved her stories too. She has so many that it is hard to keep track of. My son (who is 8) liked her series about the detectives that I can’t remember the name of now. And all three of my kids beg for me to read The Bookshop Dog and The Cookie Store Cat to them. Okay. I will stop. Sorry. Oh! Wait! I know there is a series of Star Wars beginning readers that have the short chapters and the pictures (kind of like the Cynthia Rylant one suggested). The vocabulary is kind of hard, but for some reason, boys that age just have the schema for it. It *might* be that they have seen the movies 14,384,398 times.

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  8. The Lighthouses series is SUPER–I wish there were more! I would go back to the series we just love by Rex Stone — the Dinosaur Cove series. Pretty easy read and super for boys. Someone on this board recommended Akimbo books to us and I’m eternally grateful. I would also recommend Gooseberry Park which I think is another Rylant book. Finally, My Side Of The Mountain and Summer of the Monkeys might be a little hard for him right now, but those are two great reads.

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  9. I keep thinking of Redwall, probably too difficult to read by himself at this point though. Two other thoughts, the James Herriot Treasury for Children and maybe Freddy the Pig?

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  10. Oh! Another idea! No animals, but the Star Wars connection might do it: THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA, by Tom Angleberger. About a kid who creates a (yep) small origami Yoda and is then mysteriously able to channel words of wisdom to his classmates, even though he’s totally clueless in real life. *great* for a 10-year-ld boy who’s smart but young– this is very short and easy to read but funny and sophisticated.

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  11. I was also thinking of James Herriot’s Treasury for Children. I’ll admit, I’m a veterinary student, so I’m a bit biased, but 1) James Herriot is male, and 2) lots of non-vet folks like his books too. I haven’t actually read the treasury, so I’m not sure about reading level, but I had a co-worker read it to 6th graders and they always enjoyed it. It’s also more a collection of short stories, not a chapter book, but it might get him going.

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  12. I would also recommend “Lad, a Dog” by Albert Peyson Terhune. There is a paperback edition that has been very well modified for today’s readers (leaving out the purple prose of the original). My son has not stopped reading it since he picked it up a few weeks ago. He just loves it!

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  13. I was totally going to suggest James Harriot, but I’m way late. But I vote for him.
    Perhaps Dinotopia? Lots of pictures in a funky science-ish format, male main character, it’s been well loved by animal loving kids here.

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  14. I notice that he likes Pirates, so you might try the “How to Train Your Dragon” series by Cressida Cowell. My son loved them. I know there was an okay cartoon based on the series, but Cowell’s writing is lively and imaginative, and funny. The chapters are short and there are lots of funny pictures. The relationship with the dragon would appeal to his love of animals.

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