We love animals in every shape and size. They have been our unofficial companions since the beginning of time, which means that we have many stories to tell about these ever-surprising creatures. Dogs, cats, hawks, whales, gorillas, pigs, and foxes—here’s to the animals who have stayed by our side, taught us beautiful lessons about life, and loved us as much as we love them.
And don’t worry, fellow animal lovers; all of these reads end on a happy note (apologies to Old Yeller).
Non-Fiction & Memoir
Molly: The True Story of the Amazing Dog Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher
When former police investigator Colin Butcher opens his own pet detective agency, he soon decides that he needs extra help. Enter Molly, an adopted cocker spaniel with plenty of moxie and a nose for sniffing out lost pets. As it turns out, cats have a very unique scent and Molly can find them out wherever they are. Over the years, Colin and Molly have grown a successful business reuniting pets and their humans, solving many heartwarming cases and earning them the moniker “The Sherlock and Watson of Missing Pets.”
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Grief takes many forms, and for Helen Macdonald, it leads her to adopt one of the most brutal predatory birds around—the goshawk. Already an experienced falconer, Macdonald still experiences unexpected challenges with Mabel the goshawk, both physically and emotionally, as she works to fit the wild and fierce bird into her life. Throughout training, she consults T.H. White’s iconic story, The Goshawk, as a guide. The result: a memoir that is a genius mix of a naturalist’s passion, a study of grief, and a historical look at a complex literary icon.
Grayson by Lynne Cox
Seventeen-year-old Cox is a professional swimmer, training in the ocean, when she notices a large body swimming beneath her. Gradually, she and her team realize that it’s a baby gray whale … and it’s lost. Unfortunately, Cox can’t swim back to shore as planned because if the baby continues to follow her, it won’t survive the shallow waters. So she heads back out to sea. What follows is one of the sweetest, most miraculous mother-and-child reunion stories you’ll ever read.
The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery
When Montgomery adopts a sick piggy, little does she know that he will also be adopted by her entire small town. Christopher Hogwood likes to break free and visit neighbors, especially when they have snacks ready. To the border collie and chickens he lives with, he’s a gentle (750-pound) giant. To Montgomery, he’s a friend who helps her through a rough time in her life and eases her out of her shell. We like to think of Mr. Hogwood as the real-life Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web.
Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
For 19 years, Dr. Dian Fossey lives with and studies the Virunga Mountain gorillas in East Africa. Her mission is complicated by the wild terrain, obstinate poachers, and politics—the Virunga Mountains lay across three boarders: Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. But over time she gets to know several families of gorillas personally, takes meticulous field notes, and shares their fascinating life with the world. (Sadly, Fossey was murdered in her camp two years after this book was published. She’s buried in the same graveyard she created for gorillas killed by poachers.)
A Dog’s Life by Peter Mayle
Boy is Mayle’s dog in real life, and this is a hilarious “if they could talk” account of Boy’s life with the family in Provence. Boy has a lot to say about the people he calls “madame” and “the other half” but in a nutshell: They’re fine humans, just not that bright. Sure, they miss all of his literary references and keep putting their feet in his way, but the French countryside is a nice home, after all.
No list of animal memoirs would be complete without mentioning All Creatures Great and Small. A devoted rural veterinarian in Yorkshire Dales, England, Herriot meets and treats everyone from pampered family pets to critically ill farm animals. As he assists difficult births and mends nasty scrapes, he reflects on how animals trust us. Most importantly, his message is one of stewardship—our responsibility to care for creatures when they can’t care for themselves.
Biloxi by Mary Miller
Louis McDonald Jr. is 63 years old, recently single, and prematurely retired. On a whim, he adopts Layla, an overweight dog who fits into his life like no other person he’s met lately. To McDonald’s absolute surprise, he learns that a curmudgeonly old man and an unwanted mutt can indeed start anew.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Pi Patel is lost at sea. He survives a shipwreck—which contains a zoo—and finds himself on a lifeboat with a zebra, orangutan, hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The tiger makes quick meals of everyone but Pi, and the two build a workable if tension-packed friendship until they’re rescued and Parker escapes into the jungle. At least, that’s what Pi tells the police…
The Cat Who… Series by Lilian Jackson Braun
Anyone who has ever lived with a cat would not be surprised to discover that they sneak out and solve crimes on the side. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards is the first in this series, and a fine place to start reading about Jim Qwilleran, a prize-winning reporter and his brilliant Siamese cat, Koko (later joined by Yum Yum), who crack whodunits all over Moose County.
Fox 8 by George Saunders
He was always the outcast in his pack, but when Fox 8 learns to speak English, he gets a chance at redemption. A new shopping center is threatening their food supply, and Fox 8 is determined to use his new skills to enlist the humans’ help in saving his pack. There’s a lot of emotion packed into this 50-page book (actually a short story), some of it violent, but ultimately it offers us a more tender and hopeful way to think about the wildlife around us.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Published in 1877, Sewell’s only novel is an early example of literature calling for animal welfare. It’s told from the point of view of Black Beauty, a work horse in Victorian London. Although his youth in the countryside is carefree, he’s soon enlisted to pull carriages. Over the span of his long, hard life he is sold to more than two dozen owners, some kind and some oblivious to the pain they are causing him and their other horses. Black Beauty’s final owners are compassionate and let him retire in comfort. In England and the United States, the book inspired such a public outcry at the treatment of horses that it led to several anti-cruelty laws.