I remember reading “The Black Stallion” while sitting cross-legged in the backyard grass, the aroma of my mother’s tea roses surrounding me. The roses were a happy smell, and reading about that beautiful horse made me happy, enough that I remember the scene to this day so many years later. A book is a most special gift for a child.
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“Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell
This timeless classic is told by the magnificent horse himself, from his idyllic days on an estate to his hard days as a London cab horse. (ages 10 & 11)
“The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley
First published in 1941, this best-selling novel for young readers is the tale of Alec Ramsay and the black stallion’s first meeting on ship, then their adventures on a desert island, and their eventual rescue. Though for ages 8-12, you’ll enjoy it too.
“Bambi” by Felix Salten”
“Bambi,” the story of a fawn growing up in both the beauty and danger of the forest, has been a favorite of children since it was published in 1923. Designated for ages 8 to 12, it’s a story that will stay with a child as he or she grows up. (It’s far better than the animated film.)
“The Incredible Journey” by Sheila Burnford
A Labrador retriever, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat set out through the Canadian wilderness to find their owner. They face hunger, the natural elements, and forest animals in this at turns tense, funny, and downright classic tale. It’s the story that inspired the movie, “Homeward Bound.” (Ages 8-12)
“Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White
A Newbery Honor Book winner, White’s tale of a spider named Charlotte who spells out messages in her web for a little pig named Wilbur has been charming parents and children since 1952 when it was first published. (8 and up)
“Old Yeller” by Fred Gipson
Published in 1956, this story, placed in a 19th century Texas town, tells of a boy who takes in a stray dog. Old Yeller ends up saving various family members and becomes a true friend, but there’s sadness at the end, a sadness that’s resolved, but it’s a sure tear-jerker and is advised for ages 10 and up.
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
This wonderful story and illustrations won a Caldecott Medal for most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year. Several generations of children have loved this book about a recalcitrant little boy who imagines living amongst wild things. (age 4 and up)
“Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown
At 75 years old, this book is still going deservedly strong with its message about a mother’s unconditional love. “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” Highly recommended! (age 2 and up)
“The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden
City mouse, Tucker, and his friend, Harry Cat, live in the Times Square subway station. They meet Chester Cricket, an accidental tourist, they go on a series of adventures, and eventually meet a boy who rescues Chester from the subway station. Published in 1960 and awarded the Newbery Honor Book, it deserves to live at least another 60 years. (ages 6 to 9)
“Gerry the One-Eared Cat” by Dawn Brookes
A little kitten called Gerry is born with just one ear and soon finds that looking different can lead to loneliness. All he wants is to be accepted. Eventually, he learns how to overcome his one-eared appearance, help showing up where he didn’t expect it. (5 – 7 years)
“Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse, must move her family to their summer quarters immediately or face certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, has pneumonia and can’t be moved. She encounters the rats of NIMH, highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. (ages 8-12)
“Whittington” by Alan Armstrong
“They never loved me,” the cat said, looking away. “When the weather got cool, the man started jogging in leggings. I’d be waiting by the door when he got back. If I brushed his leg, he’d get a shock. He’d kick, I’d bite.” This is Whittington who finds a home in a barn, then tells a tale that began in the 16th century. (ages 8-12)
The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
Either you read it or it was read to you. Remember it? It’s about a doctor who, discovering he can speak with animals, becomes a veterinarian. In this first book in the series, the doctor travels to Africa to treat an epidemic amongst monkeys, he’s shipwrecked on the way, and the adventures begin. Written in 1920, it’s just as good today. (ages 6-10)
“Leafensong: First Telling” by J. R. Hooge
The blind and orphaned Boggs, a squirrel in Leafensong, is called to go on a lone journey into the forest while packrats threaten the colony, causing them to gear up to fight off the enemy. Highly evolved squirrels among mysterious trees, animals with thoughts and philosophies, and excellent writing in a young adult book that’s also for mature readers.
“The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle
From the back cover: “The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. So she ventured out from the safety of the enchanted forest on a quest for others of her kind. Joined along the way by the bumbling magician Schmendrick and the indomitable Molly Grue, the unicorn learns all about the joys and sorrows of life and love before meeting her destiny in the castle of a despondent monarch—and confronting the creature that would drive her kind to extinction.” (for all ages)
“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter
Here’s a perennial favorite to add to your child’s or grandchild’s shelf. It’s the story of the mischievous PeterRabbit—in another perennial favorite: a Little Golden Book.
“Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling
“Drawn from the wondrous tales told to Kipling as a child by his Indian nurses, Just So Stories creates the magical enchantment of the dawn of the world, when animals could talk and think like people.” The stories are over a hundred years old but still enjoyed to this day. (age 6 and up)
“Magical Adventures & Pony Tales” by Angharad Thompson Rees
Six well-written stories focused on horses will charm children, whether read to younger children or, for the older children, read on their own. There’s a carousel pony, a wild pony, a hero pony, a runaway pony, a flying pony, and a wooden pony.
“The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling” by Timothy Basil Ering
What happens to a duckling hatched in Captain Alfred’s fiddle case aboard a ship during a storm? It’s swept out to sea, but is this the end of the duckling? Of course it isn’t. The duckling discovers the violin and music, and music helps bring the duckling back home. (age 5 to 7)
“The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf
“Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.” It’s been a children’s favorite since 1936, and how could it not be? Ferdinand is a sweet little fellow, a lover of flowers who doesn’t want to ever go up against a matador. Give your child the gift of a gentle bull. (ages 3 to 5)
“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
A tollbooth appears in some unknown manner in his room, and Milo (who’s bored) drives through, finding a very different world. For instance, there’s the Island of Conclusions that you can reach only by jumping, and you can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry. A fun and funny book for kids 8 and up, and possibly for younger children if it’s read to them.
“The Heart of a Whale” by Anna Pignataro
Published in 2020, this picture book is an instant classic with its poetic text and artwork along with its beautiful message. The touching description says the whale “lets out a mournful sigh, the ocean carries it like a wish through its fathoms, bringing it to just the right place.”
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
This classic has been repeatedly published since 1865, and though it’s supposedly for kids, it’s really for every age. You probably already know how Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters a world populated by things like the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat, but it’s time for a new generation to enjoy the tale. (Don’t forget the sequel, “Through the Looking Glass”)
“Born to Run” by Michael Morpurgo
Young Patrick saves a litter of greyhound pups, taking one for himself. He loves the dog, loves watching him run faster than the wind, but one day, the dog is stolen by a greyhound trainer who turns him into a champion racer. What will become of this dog when he can run no more? Though written for children, it’s a book for all ages.
“The Loudest Meow” by Wendy Ledger
Categorized for “tweens” (pre-adolescents), this is one of those books easily enjoyed as so many of them are, by adults too. Go with Jem, a calico cat, as she enters the afterlife without being the least ready to go there. Meet some of the other ghostly cats as she travels amongst them in her new world.
“The Rescuers” by Margery Sharp
The highly revered Prisoners’ Aid Society of Mice is tasked with befriending human prisoners and performing rescue missions. The initial mission as the story opens is that of rescuing a Norwegian poet being held in awful conditions at the Black Castle. There’s a Walt Disney animated film, but reading a book should always come first. (ages 8-12)
“Lassie Come Home” by Eric Knight
Lassie quickly became the most famous dog in the world, the book about her just as quickly becoming a classic. First published in 1940, it’s the story of how Joe’s father, because of finances, has to sell Lassie. She’s taken far away in Scotland, and her only goal is to make it back home. It’s rated for ages 8 to 12, but there’s many an adult who has enjoyed reading it.
“Kittens in the Kitchen” by Ben M. Baglio
This is the 1st in the Animal Ark books, but you may have to find the Ark books used or at the library. This book introduces Mandy, daughter of veterinarians who own the Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital, and follows her efforts to find homes for four newborn kittens. For ages 8 and up. List of all the Animal Ark books
“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot
“Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw…” Meet him and others in an amusing book of poems. Need a name for your new kitten? Try “The Naming of Cats,” or perhaps you want excitement. Try “Growltiger’s Last Stand.” There are 15 poems in all, and depending on the edition you choose, there will be a variety of illustrations. For all ages.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Roald Dahl
Fantastic Mr. Fox has kept his family well-supplied at three different farms until the farmers, unlikable chaps that they are, decide it’s time to get rid of the thief. Children will be pleased with the amusing methods employed by the farmers and the successful parries by the fox. The illustrations and Dahl’s writing make all of it work. (The animated film is very much different.) Ages 8 to 12, but can be read aloud to younger children.
“Babe, the Gallant Pig” by Dick King-Smith
Yes, there’s the award-winning film adaptation, but first there was the book. Babe, the pig, is quite special in his ability to do the job of sheepdog, good enough that Farmer Hogget enters him in the Grand Challenge Sheepdog Trials. Children will adore this lovable pig. Warning: If you’re bothered by the use of “bitch” for a female dog, you can skip it if reading aloud. (6 to 9 years)
“Scaredy Squirrel” by Mélanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel stays in his nut tree because dangers lurk elsewhere, from tarantulas to green Martians, but he keeps an emergency kit just in case. Then he suddenly finds he’s out of his tree where all the scary things exist, but where he eventually finds there are truly good things too. (Ages 5 through 8)
“Those Darn Squirrels!” by Adam Rubin
“Old Man Fookwire was so old that when he sneezed, dust came out. He was also a grump.” In an attempt to keep his beloved birds from flying south in winter, he builds beautiful birdfeeders, filling them with luscious food. The squirrels love it and hatch marvelous plans, driving Fookwire to extremes. (Ages 4 to 7)
“Merry Christmas, Squirrels!” by Nancy Rose
Illustrated with photos of squirrels cleverly blended into settings where they build snowmen, wear sweaters, and open gifts, this story isn’t just for the holidays. After all, do children really care about appropriate times? They’ll enjoy the Christmas-loving Mr. Peanuts and Cousin Squirrel as they celebrate in their own adorable way, and they’ll enjoy it any time of year. (Pre-school to grade 1)
“The Rat Prince: A New Twist on Cinderella” by Bridget Hodder
Char, Prince of the Rats, is in love with Cinderella, and when he’s changed into her coachman on the night of the big ball, the legend takes off, but in a slightly different direction from the original fairy tale. Your children (and you, too) may end up preferring this version to the original. [Ages 9-12]