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Friday, June 19, 2015

Great Adult Reads Featuring Animals: A List and a RA Training Exercise

Later this morning my son will complete his 2 week theater camp with a performance of Doctor Doolittle Jr.  Over the last 2 weeks, we have talked a lot about the books upon which the production is based. It sadden and shamed me that my voracious reader son was not even aware of this series [so 100% my fault]. But besides talking about this series, for the last 2 weeks we have had numerous discussions about other books featuring animals which he has enjoyed.

Then at yesterday’s ARRT Steering committee two comments came up about books featuring animals.  One, had to do with whether or not a book featured violence towards animals. [On a side note, this is one of the most common limiters for adults and their leisure reading. In my experience, violence to animals trumps any violence (even to children) or sex restrictions]. The other was someone recommending H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, as she prefaced her recommendation with he words, “And I don’t even necessarily like Hawks, but I loved this book.”

And then again, this week marks the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  On my dresser is the ARC of a debut novel, The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe that tells the story of this epic battle through the eyes of the rabbits that live on the farm where the battle took place. I will be reading it soon.

This is all a roundabout way to say, although I thought I was the only one with animal books on the brain due to living and breathing Dr. Doolittle all week, I am not alone.  Adults love reading about animals as much as kids do.

Animals are a great example of a specific frame that many readers enjoy but do not always articulate.  As I wrote in a recent article for NoveList on this topic:
"I have found that there are some specific frames that I enjoy in my leisure reading. For example, as a transplanted but proud Jersey girl, I will read just about any book if it is set in New Jersey. I also love books with circuses, ones set on college campuses, titles with a Civil War background but which do not focus on the battles, and books with baseball in them. I will read any type of book in which these subjects appear -- fiction or nonfiction. Nine times out of ten, I will end up loving the book, even if it is not a genre or writing style I would normally enjoy. I can go against my appeal preferences if these frames are present because their presence in the story in and of themselves gives me great enjoyment."
In my experience, I have found this last statement to be very true of a large number of patrons when it comes to animals.

So, here are some of the books I had read and reviewed on this blog which feature animals prominently. Click on the link to read about the specific appeal of each book because they are from a very wide range of genre, tone, and style. However, don’t forget that for some people, just the fact that animals are at the center of these books may be all a reader needs to enjoy all of these books.

The act of just gathering a list of these widely differing titles united only by their shared frame has been a great exercise for me.  You should try it too.  Just think about books you know about or have read that fit this category too. Or, do it for any category by frame, not just animals.  It really helps to get the RA recommendation juices going.  Trying to to only match for example, The Sage of Waterloo and Watership Down because they both have rabbit narrators is okay RA service for your patron.  But considering The Art of Racing in the Rain or Dog On It, which feature dog narrators is great RA service. Different animal, but very similar storytelling techniques.

If nothing else, just reading this list will encourage you to think outside the box as you suggest books to patrons, books they may never have found on their own, books they may love.  That is the power you hold; the power to enrich someone’s life with a great read. What a great job we all have.

Books where animals are narrators:
Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Bees by Laline Paull
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (first in a series of mysteries)

Books which feature animals prominently
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand [nf]
The Big Year by Mark Obmascik [nf]
American Buffalo by Steven Rinella [nf]
Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (YA novel based on the Isle of Dr. Moreau)
His Majesty’s Dragons by Naomi Novik

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