When I was growing up my earliest favorite books featured animals. My very favorites tended to be books I could read alone…exceptions being Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte’s Web, which mom read to me.
Reading alone was a big deal for me because I’m dyslexic and early reading was always mom reading to me and me pretending I knew words. What complicated the process included the fact that this was before dyslexia was commonly known and the school people just thought I was slow.
I think my first favorite, I-read-alone book was, Farley Mowat’s The Dog who Wouldn’t be. If I’m not misremembering I ordered my copy through a Scholastic Book order. I ordered it and I paid for it, – I had my first job at age 10 and my money was usually spent on books like this.
I think I read this book just before my family moved to Canada – Mowat is a Canadian writer and Canadians have a different relationship with their writers then Americans do. Mowat, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Alice Monroe, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, W.O. Mitchell – they largely informed my sensibilities of what it was to be a writer and set my standards for what good writing is.
I also had a great deal of contact with books and writers from the UK growing up in Canada; writers from the UK were the next biggest impact on my reading and writing. Gerald Durrell’s stories of both his youth and his adult activities establishing the first wildlife preserve captivated me.
Durrell established the first real nature preserve, his idea from the beginning was to make his sanctuary a place that was built for the animals first, with human viewers being a secondary concern. It’s been years since I read Durrell and I sometimes wonder what I would think of his books now – I do know he impacted my choice to be a conservationist, which was the first specialization I studied in university and the basis for my Bachelor’s degree.
Of course, I loved James Herriot from the moment I read his first book. I read the early shorter books to begin with, then had to have the collected editions.
I continued to follow Herriot’s writing career as he and I both aged, and read everything I’m aware of that he wrote. It’s possible I’ve missed a children’s collection of stories somewhere but I do own Moses the Kitten and Only One Woof. I didn’t mind that they were pulled from his books that I already owned and read – I enjoyed the illustration and slight editing.
I actually did not enjoy some of the classics, such as Black Beauty (I will no longer willingly read a book where an animal suffers throughout the story.) Good writing creates very vivid pictures in my mind and some pictures I just can’t stand to see much of.
And I didn’t just read animal stories. I read Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie; I picked and chose among Charles Dickens works – very fond of A Christmas Carol, really couldn’t get into Great Expectations, and found Oliver Twist a compelling read, in part I think because I was young when I read it (the capricious differences between adults in a child’s world seemed pretty accurate to me.)
I think it remains the animal books though, that I remember most fondly of all the books I’ve read. I’m hoping at least a few people who stop by here will take the time to share some of the animal books and/or writers they’ve enjoyed reading over the years.
And to those of you who loved Black Beauty, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to diss your book – it just wasn’t to my taste. I do understand it is an important book though, because not everyone realized or thought about the abuse of animals. This was a socially significant book and props to Anna Sewell for opening people’s eyes.