June 23rd, 2018

Library Chat: Reading about the world through eyes of animals

By Medicine Hat News on May 12, 2017.

Sentient animals are very popular in children’s picture books and your public library shelves are full of beautiful works featuring thinking, talking, creatures real and imagined. Children learn about books and words and stories with beasts who model good behavior or bad, learn hard life lessons, or party like Richard Scarry.

The idea of people-like animals persists into chapter books, think of the classic Thornton Burgess books, “The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse” or “The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk,” for example, replaced now by adventures of all manner of creatures from dragons to cats.

Not as many books for adults feature deep-thinking animals, but this year’s winner of the CBC Canada Reads competition, “Fifteen Dogs,” is a good example of the genre. Published in 2015, Canadian André Alexis imagines a couple of Greek gods placing a bet on how human-like sentience would play out in another species. It’s a pretty quick but unpredictable read which provokes reflection on the human condition.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel” is a story by Garth Stein written from a dog’s point of view. Folks who love car racing will get a little extra something out of this one. Another book featuring a dog storyteller is “Lonesome: Memoirs of a Wilderness Dog” by Chris Czajkowski, held by Bassano and Bow Island public libraries.

Chet, who flunked out of police dog academy, is now working in private detection with human Bernie in a series of novels by Spencer Quinn. We have some of these in paper and some in e-book format from our Overdrive e-book service.

In “Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story,” a much loved shepherd’s death is investigated by his flock. It’s held by Redcliff and Brooks Public libraries. Why not visit some other Shortgrass Region public libraries for a short road trip or as a pit stop on a longer drive. Your Medicine Hat Public Library card is good at any of the region’s 13 libraries and it’s always fun to browse unfamiliar stacks.

Or you can place a hold and have the book delivered to your chosen library, including the college library. I requested “Horse Heaven” by award-winning Jane Smiley and it came in from Foremost Library. This book follows the racing lives of a group of young thoroughbreds and includes their points of view, as well as the complicated lives of all the people involved in racing.

If dogs and sheep aren’t your thing, but you have a weakness for elephants, try “The White Bone” by Barbara Gowdy. You probably remember Richard Adams’ “Watership Down,” already 42 years old but still a great story from rabbits’ points of view. I see it sometimes classed as juvenile fiction but I remember both my father and I reading it and enjoying it.

Looking at the world from an animal’s eyes gives authors a chance to explore things we take for granted in our own lives more deeply, without the risk of offending one group or another. The titles listed above don’t use animals to niggle at an issue the way that Orwell did in “Animal Farm,” these are all easy reads, some more light hearted than others.

Shelley Ross is chief librarian at the Medicine Hat Public Library.

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