Friday, 4 January 2013

Dogs using knife and fork, Mrs Frisby and the rats of Nimh, The Black Stallion, and Art Garfunkel

So, it seems like an age since I wrote one of these posts. I've missed them.

The question: why do kids like stories about animals? When I was a young reader, I absolutely loved them. Mice were a favourite, from  'Mice in clothes with swords' of REDWALL, to the mice that read books and use electricity of NIMH. There was something about a secretive little world going on, in parallel to mine, just beyond the skirting board, that filled me with delight, and it was a constant disappointment that there were never any Tom and Jerry type holes in the walls.

Though I didn't ride, for some reason I loved stories about horses. THE BLACK STALLION, mainly describes the horses from the point of view of the boy who owns them, but BLACK BEAUTY is written beautifully from the horses point of view. THE SILVER BRUMBY series was my favourite. It tells the stories of WILD horses in Australia, focussing on the brave leader, Thowra.

Another series that grabbed me were the stories about the king of cats, CARBONEL. A bit like the mice under the floorboards, this tells of a parallel world of cats on rooftops, that I loved. Another book, about a different kind of cat, that is much less well known is THE STORY OF A SERENGETI PRIDE, which beautifully describes the efforts of a group of brother lions to hold onto an immense territory, while the female lions go about their lives.

All of these stories allow kids to experiment with seeing the world through different eyes, which, maybe, is something they are instinctively drawn to. Kids at play can put a personality into anything, a doll, a car, a teddy bear, or a toy animal, so why not read stories about them as well?

I didn't come across my absolute favourite until I was a little older. WATERSHIP DOWN tells the amazing, epic story of a group of rabbits trying to find a new home. The characterisation is spectacular, but the story also tries to do something else different, it builds myths and legends for rabbit society, and it tries to show how they understand the world differently to humans, not intelligent enough, for example, to understand how a boat works.

There was one other animal book I loved as a kid, DOLPHIN ISLAND, one of Arthur C. Clarke's less well known books, about a boy who becomes involved in experiments on dolphins in the Pacific. All of these books had an impact on me, but maybe the last was the one I dwelt on the most, when, inevitably I came to write my own animal story.

It's at least as challenging as any of the other nine, but hopefully number ten will be a tiny bit as rewarding as some of them. The animal I've chosen is a whale, and I've tried to show the difference of its perception in a way that no other book does. Give it a try...