Reading Through My Book Gap: Maybe I Do Like Books With Animal Characters by Jillian Heise
We all have them. Those areas in our reading lives that we avoid. Those elements in a book that make us cringe away. Those “book gaps” we discover when we look at trends in our reading. A feeling, as one of my 8th graders once said, “That’s just not my genre.” For some people is historical fiction, for some it’s books with maps in the front, for others it might be unpronounceable character names, for yet others it may be romance books. Well, my (previously) declared type of books I stayed away from was books with animals as characters.
I’m not sure why. I mean, I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child. I fell in love with Ivan, Stella, Ruby, and Bob along with everyone else, and have often said The One and Only Ivan is the book I think every human should read. But I still clung to the idea that I didn’t like books with animal characters, so my preferences would lead me to avoid those middle grades books that had talking animals in them.
I should’ve known better. Have you ever had a student like that, or known another adult for that matter, who claims to really dislike something, but hasn’t given it a try recently? There was no reason for my hating on books with animals as main characters. In fact, really should stop calling them out in my head and perpetuating that bias. But this year these two books changed my views because they are so well written and I was drawn to the (yes, talking animal) characters.
by C. Alexander London, Philomel Books, Penguin Random House, 8/25/2015
My thoughts: These characters are endearing, varied, and entertaining. The setting and world building is phenomenal and humorously detailed. The story has gravitas and keeps the plot moving with adventure and twists to keep the reader turning pages. It’s a fun read with enough excitement to keep intermediate grades kids hooked and has subtle messages and lessons from characters who the reader cares about that make it an instant classic.
by Alison McGhee, illustrations by Christopher Denise, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 8/18/2015
My thoughts: An enchanting story of friendship, following dreams, and reaching beyond limits others put on you. Endearing characters and writing, combined with a quietly adventurous plot, create a story that warms the heart and leaves the reader hopeful.
These are the ones that have gotten me past my biases. They have become my two favorite middle grades books of this year so far, and I would have missed them because I thought I disliked this type of book, but apparently I just needed to give it a try. Who knew? (Apparently everyone else who reads animal character books!)
Do you have book gap areas to face? Share in the comments and maybe others can give you recommendations of titles that might help you read through those biases.
Jillian Heise is a National Board Certified middle school language arts teacher allowing her to discuss thoughts about books with real teen readers every day of the school year…as part of her job. Her 7th & 8th graders are the reason she pushes herself to read through her book gaps, so she always has just the right book to recommend to the right reader at the right time. You can find her online at Heise Reads & Recommends, Heise Teaches & Writes, or on Twitter @heisereads where she is always happy to recommend a book to any reader in need.
I have the exact same book gap! I think mine is based in some sort of pre-pubescent snobbery ( animal books are for babies) that has followed me into adulthood, just like my dislike for tomato soup, which I’ve never actually eaten. “The One and Only Ivan” also helped me dip a toe into books with animal characters and I am more open. I just put “Firefly Hollow” on hold at the library. They don’t have “The Wild Ones” yet, but I will keep checking for it. Thanks!
I didn’t even recognize this book gap in myself, but it sure explains why I’ve never read Guardians of Ga’hoole, Redwall, or the Warriors series. I LOVED Lassie Come Home, Wind in the Willows, The Incredible Journey, The Rescuers, and Cricket in Times Square when I was a kid, though!
I usually avoid westerns, romance novels, and horror. I don’t mind books with elements of those, but the kind of books that would be segregated into a special section in the library? Not so much. And I have kids who enjoy all three, so yes, I would love some ideas on books to try from those genres!
Redwall is pretty good, but I would give the others a miss. If you’re going to read anthropomorphic animal fantasy, it might as well be amazing: Watership Down, Tailchaser’s Song. I would also throw in A Mouse and His Boy as a crossover fable.
I second Watership Down. It’s one of my favorite books.
I developed the same book gap after I had little kids. I think it was triggered by Arthur, which is a TV show, not a book. But what I disliked about these stories was how unnecessary it was that Arthur was an aardvark. Even his appearance changed over time so that by the end he and his family just had these weird-looking vestigial ears, but otherwise acted like regular human beings. I also felt like this about a lot of the Richard Scarry books, too. Why did the fire fighters have to be cats? And would pigs with aprons and chef hats really eat cutlets? And then there was Miss Spider driving her new car, and all those apron-wearing bunny-moms. Now that my kids are older, I haven’t gone back and revisited the genre much, but I think I’d be ok with animal characters that weren’t so close to being just stereotyped humans in costume.
May I suggest the next animal book you read? I fell in love with THE DESPERATE ADVENTURES OF ZENO AND ALYA by Jane Kelley.
Reblogged this on David Macinnis Gill.
Animal fantasy is my favorite genre. =) I occasionally make my way past my bias against historical fiction and mysteries in a similar way. I would suggest two or twelve ground-breaking animal fantasy stories here, but instead I’ll applaud your willingness to try new things.
Oh yeah i too tell i hate animal characters in books but i’ve honestly never tried a book of that kind
I think animal stories are all about how young children relate to animals well. Maybe there is more empathy being developed. Also, I think Colby was right on in a previous post that whatever the genre it is not about us, it is about the student who this might appeal to….
I love THE WILD ONES by Alexander London from Howl to Snap!
My big “gap” is fantasy. I will declare until the cows come home that I CANNOT stand fantasy but I will happily wear my Harry Potter jersey to work, home, (or anywhere) any chance I get… talk about Harry Potter any chance I get… or read Harry Potter any chance I get. But really, I don’t like fantasy.
I too had the same book gap. It was the One and Only Ivan that helped changed my mind. Also you should try The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp!
I have the same book gap with animal stories, but one that helped me get past my bias was The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp. I loved it.
Fascinating to read the comments and very helpful as have written a novel with animal characters but agree find some of the talking anthropomorphism a bit difficult !