TheRoomDad suggested my son read The Black Stallion since it was TheRoomDad’s favorite book when he was a kid. I was skeptical. I saw the movie when I was about nine years old and thought it was the most boring movie I had ever seen. Turns out, as is almost always true, the book is much better than the movie.
There are several things I like about the book, but the best part is the relationship between Alec and Black. Alec assumes complete responsibility for the horse, and while adults support Alec, ultimately, Alec is the one who has to care for Black every day even if it might be inconvenient. Alec and the horse rely on each other and develop a deep friendship. These themes of companionship, trust, responsibility, and independence can be found in many animal books and are reasons I think kids love to read books with animal characters.
Below is a list of other animal-centered chapter books that we like. As you may suspect, more than a handful of animal books also fall in the Sad but Good book category, so if you don’t see your favorite animal book here, check the other list.
Mr. Star Wars likes the more realistic animal books; I prefer the fantasy animal books. Do you enjoy animal books? If so, which style do you prefer?
Animals as Pets (realistic-ish)
- Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
- The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley
- The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
- Julie of the Wolves series by Jean Craighead George
- Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
- A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
- Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
- The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
- Rascal by Sterling North
- Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- Sounder by William H. Armstrong
- The Yearling by Marjorie K. Rawlings
Animals with Human Qualities (fantasy)
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe series by C.S. Lewis
- Mistmantle Chronicles by M.I. McAllister
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
- Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
- Poppy series by Avi
- Stuart Little by E.B. White
- The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
- Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- What the Dog Said by Randi Reisfeld
- Wildwood series by Colin Meloy
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
- Winnie the Pooh series by A.A. Milne
As a little bonus, here are a few picture books we like too!
- Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem
- Brave Bitsy and the Bear by Angela McAllister
- Bread and Jam for Frances and others by Russell Hoban
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- Curious George and others by Margret and H.A. Rey
- Olivia and others by Ian Falconer
- Peter Rabbit and others by Beatrix Potter
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
- Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
My favorite–and my own two kids would likely agree–is Where the Red Fern Grows. This is for older readers; my kids read it as 6th graders, I use it with 7th graders. It’s an old book by Wilson Rawls and there are so many good lessons in this book. Caution: It’s a Kleenex ending.
Yes– Red Fern is the star of the “Sad but Good” book list, so I did not list it again. I probably do need to have it on both lists because it is THAT good.
I loved EB White growing up. I now read it to my kids 🙂 Your choices are great, I love how you break it down by type since my youngest likes picture books, while my oldest is reading chapter books.
We have a similar age spread at my house. My almost 3rd grader can do many of the chapter books I preview for my 4th grade students. My almost 1st grader still reads pictures books and starter chapter books like Magic Tree House. I re-read Trumpet of the Swan not too long ago. As an adult, I have a much greater appreciation for how beautiful the story truly is!