As a child, like many others, I adored animals. I still do. I’m grateful that I grew up around them: whether it was our family pet dog, Tiny (he came with the name), a dachshund corgi mix with the smallest legs ever; the horses and sheep in the fields around the village; or the goats and cows wandering outside our house when we lived in India.
I remember forming incredibly close bonds with animals, especially during our time in India, where the remoteness of the mountain we lived on meant that there wasn't always other children around. The other profession I dreamed of (along with writer and explorer) was vet.
For some children, animals lead to their first encounters of life and death. When I was six and in India, one of our dogs got taken and eaten by a leopard at dusk. I was devastated and my Grandma tried to explain to me about wild animals and food chains. A few years later in England, I went to feed our chickens in the morning and found only feathers and some orange fur stuck to the wire of the hatch.
I’ll never forget the look of horror on my sister’s face when she got home from school one day to discover one of her hamsters eating the other.
Months later, my other sister thought she’d unearthed alien worms in the rabbit cage. It turned out the rabbit had mated with a wild rabbit on one of her escapes from the garden run, and the wriggling pink things were, in fact, baby rabbits.
This part of my childhood is reflected in my writing and my books are filled with animals and the friendships that can happen between children and animals.
Here are some of my favourite stories that also explore this friendship.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
In this world, every human has a daemon, an animal companion that is also their soul. A child’s daemon is free to change form, from creature to creature, whereas an adult’s daemon remains the same.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
Christopher Robin explores the Hundred Acre Wood, going on adventures with its inhabitants, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore the donkey, Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Tigger, Rabbit and Owl.
The Last Wild by Piers Torday
This story begins in a sterile world where animals no longer exist, until a cockroach asks Kester for help and he’s flung into an adventure to save the last of the animals and the wild.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
In a bid to escape his wicked aunts, James befriends oversized insects inside a giant peach.
The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo
Bertie rescues a white lion cub in Africa but when he’s sent to boarding school he’s forced to give the cub away and the lion ends up in a circus. Bertie promises to find the lion one day.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Mowgli the boy is raised by wolves in the jungle and has many animal friends including Bagheera the black panther and Baloo the bear.
There are so many wonderful books out there and I’m certain I’ve missed a bunch. What are your favourite books that explore friendships between animals and children?