In the ninth grade we read Winston Rawlings’ Where the Red Fern Grows.

Animal Stories 2016It didn’t seem strange to read an animal story in school; I’d read the Thornton Burgess books and Allison Uttley tales growing up and this was just a longer version of Robert Lawson’s stories.

Some kids are still reading animal stories. The BIP girls have both read and collected the Warrior Cats books, with the fervour I remember having for new copies of the Anne and Emily stories and the Oz books.

But I don’t know any adults who are reading them regularly now, not the way that my parents’ generation was reading Richard Adams and William Horwood when I was a girl and a teen, as serious literature which happened to be about animals.

Mostly, I avoid them myself. Still buy them sometimes (especially when the cover art is exceptionally striking), but I don’t want to weep, and often animals stories are sad stories.

And because, when I was a girl, I chose Enid Blyton over Jack London, and Judy Blume over Marguerite Henry, I now find myself with a long list of animals stories on my TBR list.

Despite having read probably a dozen abridged versions, sumptuously illustrated, of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, I’ve yet to read the “real deal”.

And although I read a few of the Rudyard Kipling stories when they had pretty pictures, my proper editions still sport pristine spines.

On my shelves, Lad: A Dog and Bob, Son of Battle are barking. Thomasina and Carbonel are meowing. Man o’War and Misty of Chincoteague are nickering. Gentle Ben is roaring. And Paddy, well, what sound do beavers make? If I read more of these books, I’d know.

Incredible Journey BurnfordLast summer, I made a gesture in this direction, pulling Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey and Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka off the shelf.

Burnford’s classic is one of the oldest books on my shelves; it was bought for me when I was four years old. My Friend Flicka had been sitting, unread, since I was twelve. You can see how the list of animal stories has gotten unreasonably long while I have been reading in other directions. I need to mend decade-wide gaps.

The Incredible Journey is not the overwhelmingly sad story I was expecting. It ends a little abruptly but with a heartwarming scene. And My Friend Flicka runs the gamut, but there are many triumphs as well.

Mary O’Hara includes a lot of information which one might not expect to find in a book commonly read by children. I wasn’t expecting to find so much about the demands of married life on the Goose Bar ranch in a story about horses. But Nell McLaughlin is a hard-working and tenacious woman, who crosses all sorts of lines and redraws some as well, when faced with restrictions and frustrations in a landscape stuffed full of men.

So, as much as I wanted Ken to get his horse, his beloved Flicka (the cover illustration and the title give that away), the story of the grown-up McLaughlins, keeping on keeping on, is now more of a draw, as I move on to Thunderhead (followed by Green Grass of Wyoming).

Sometime after the ninth grade, I forgot that these stories have a whole lot to them. There are over 300 of them on my TBR now, including both picture books and adult novels, but I’m starting small, with a short list in my notebook.

Have you read any of those I’ve mentioned? Are you aiming for any?