Thursday, 6 September 2012

TOP FIVE animals in books

In previous posts I have been gradually assembling a new family, made up of people from books. So far I have Mrs Weasley as my new Mum and the role of Dad goes jointly to Ben and Cillian from the Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Cillian (left) and Ben (right) a bit like they look like in my head. Mrs Weasley looks pleased. 

I thought that a new family should really have a family pet, so I got to pondering that age-old question WHAT ARE THE BEST ANIMALS IN BOOKS EVER? 

There is something incredibly moving about human/animal friendships in books. Perhaps it is because animals can't speak (except for Narnians) (and the Animals of Farthing Wood) (and all other talking animals in books) and so can only show their affection in what they do. And getting to know them involves a whole new way of looking at the world. Ugh better stop talking because I just had a vision of Peter Andre and and Katie Price singing. I think their love story would have moved me a lot more if one of them was a badger who'd been rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by the other one. 

Before I begin I shall have to rule out bears, because I have already blogged about bears and also because I don't really want a pet that might one day decide to kill and eat me, like that clown in Shakespeare. (Don't tell me you've never glimpsed murder in Rupert Bear's eyes).

So I will be choosing from traditional pets, such as horses, dogs, dolphins, small hairy sand creatures that grant wishes, and cats. I love cats. What I am probably going to do is talk about all the animals and then at the end just pick cats. 

1. A horse

Storm Warning from THE ONE DOLLAR HORSE by Lauren St John

Casey Blue’s dream is to compete in the Badminton Horse Trials. It is a dream that would seem impossible for a 15-year-old living in a Hackney tower block with her criminal dad, especially given that her competitors' years of experience and expensive training. Then Casey finds a wild, half-starved horse and rescues him from the knacker’s yard. With the help of eccentric Mrs Smith, Casey begins to think that their ramshackle team might have a chance. There’s also Peter, the farrier’s son with the melty eyes, who’s willing to help – if Casey will let him. But both Casey and Storm Warning find that the past is very hard to run away from.

I was a childhood nut for anything horse. I collected the whole set of Ruby Ferguson's JILL books and read BLACK BEAUTY over and over again. What I really liked was the detail – the tack, the different jumps in a gymkhana, and the very particular personalities of the horses.

In Lauren St John’s THE ONE DOLLAR HORSE you can delve into the detail. The world of eventing, with its fierce rivalries, dramas and painstaking hours of practice is opened up to the reader. But at the heart of the book is a raw emotional journey for Casey and Storm Warning. Both start from a point where everyone else has written them off and enter a world where they are looked down on. But every step they take towards success makes Casey realises even more that the most important thing is love. That’s the love she has for Storm Warning and the real feeling from everyone around her in her team. In this they are a complete contrast to Casey’s rival and one-time idol Anna Sparks, to whom winning is everything and who has always had everything she needs to do it.

Whether Casey beats Anna or not what she has achieved is infinitely more special. When she meets Storm Warning he has been beaten, starved and driven nearly mad, but Casey and Mrs Smith with patience and passion (and a few potions) rebuild his shattered confidence and calm his fears. Without spoiling the plot I would say that the most moving bit of the story for me was near the end, when in the middle of all the competition Casey makes it clear that her love for Storm Warning overrides everything.

And there’s a strapping melty-eyed farrier’s son hanging round a lot, which is always nice. 

2. A dog

The problem with dogs in books is that they often cause crying. Obviously this can be a problem with all animals (there is just something very teary about animal loyalty) but I seem to have had particularly upsetting experiences involving book dogs.


There’s also Boswell in John Connolly’s THE GATES and HELL’S BELLS, who is so loyal and brave through Samuel Johnson’s adventures with Nurd the demon, an ice-cream truck full of dwarves and Satan, that it made me extremely happysad.

Dogs can also be funny. Lady Bertram’s pug in MANSFIELD PARK makes me laugh just because I imagine it sitting there, being a pug, the whole time she is talking.


But my favourite dog ever has to be Barnaby Jones Pickles from LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson, which is the funniest book I have ever read and from the funniest blog I have ever read. Barnaby Jones Pickles and his adventures with birds and foxen are just insanely brilliant (warning: also sad). 

3. A dolphin

Spirit the dolphin from GODS AND WARRIORS by Michelle Paver
Michelle Paver’s new series GODS AND WARRIORS is set in the Mediterranean Bronze Age. It is the story of three characters who, for different reasons are separated from their family. 12-year-old Hylas is a goatherd, on the run after a tribe of savage warriors called Crows ambushed him and kidnapped his sister. Pirra is the daughter of a high priestess, who has fled to escape being forced into marriage. Spirit is a dolphin who gets separated from his pod when he helps Hylas. In a world where the Sea is the all-powerful and unpredictable force that determines life and death, and the people that live around are equally unpredictable in their actions and allegiances, the three must team up if they are going to survive.

There is so much to say about this book (and I am going to review it separately in a history-themed post) but the most unusual and fascinating feature is of course that part of the story is told from the point of view of a dolphin. 

Michelle Paver manages to transport her reader into the mind of a dolphin. You can feel the differences between Hylas's struggles in the water and Spirit gliding through his world. You can see and hear humans from Spirit's point of view as he notes Hylas's 'odd, blunt human speech' and the 'seaweed' that grows out of his head. You also see Spirit, Hylas and Pirra trying to understand each other and learning to communicate in a way beyond words.     

Also, if Spirit was my official new animal friend I would be forced to go an live on Crete. Or perhaps the island from MAMMA MIA. 

4. A psammead

The Psammead from FIVE CHILDREN AND IT by E. Nesbitt
and FOUR CHILDREN AND IT by Jacqueline Wilson

Not *technically* an animal. Or a real thing. But if I could have a dolphin narrator then I could definitely have a tiny hairy man who lives in my sandpit and grants me wishes. It is actually a very fashionable time to own a psammead (you might say he's the current It-boy) because Jacqueline Wilson has just written a book about him. In her book FOUR CHILDREN AND IT, which she says could be seen as a tribute to E Nesbitt's original, the sand creature meets a modern family. I wrote a few words about retelling the classics over on Armadillo, but in short I am hugely excited to get the chance to meet the psammead again, as the original had me in constant daydreams about what wishes I'd choose. 

I've decided I will ask the psammead for:

1. My offer letter from Hogwarts. I won't even comment on the fact that it is FIFTEEN YEARS LATE, causing me to look a bit weird sitting in lessons with lots of year 7s. 

But then actually I will have the advantage of wisdom and will know loads of the spell words already and be able to solve mysteries IMMEDIATELY without having to read any books or sit in the bath working out clues. 

Hogwarts people: 'Where's the Philosopher's Stone?' Me: 'THERE'
Hogwarts people: 'Where's the Chamber of Secrets?' Me: 'THERE'
Hogwarts people: 'Someone's escaped from Azkaban, what do we do?' Me: 'THIS'
Hogwarts people: 'But how are we going to win the Triwizard Tournament?' Me: 'LIKE THIS'

etc etc for about seven years.

And then they'll be all 'oh, thanks Liz, here's some wizard money/a swanky new broomstick/ACTUAL BUTTERBEER. SHHH Hermione, we don't care if you found something in a book. Liz JUST KNEW IT.'

And I'll be all 'hey guys, it was nothing. Let's kick back with some ACTUAL BUTTERBEER, which I can really drink now because I actually live in Hogwarts and this is all real.'

2.  A Tardis to live in. 
Plus the 10th and 11th Doctors, Amy, Rory, Rose and an Ood.
Best. Roommates. Ever. 
Plus even though it is a Tardis it turns out there's not actually room for everyone to have their own room and so me and the 10th Doctor *have* to share.


3. For cats to be able to speak

I will hurt you

Which leads me onto


Even hairy wish-granting sand fairies must bow to the awesomenesses that are CATS. 
There are many to choose from: Tabby from the WORST WITCH by Jill Murphy, Angus and Cross-eyed Gordy from the GEORGIA NICHOLSON books by Louise Rennison and Roger from MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE by Annabel Pitcher

But my fondest cat memories are from this book:

Jupiter, Dab and Leech from THE ALCHYMIST'S CAT by Robin Jarvis

Will Godwin is forced to work for Dr. Elias Theophrastus Spittle after Spittle frames him for a murder he didn't commit. When Will finds a cat and her kittens in a graveyard, he persuades Spittle to keep them, suggesting he could use a cat as his 'familiar' in his quest for immortality. The kittens are two brothers named Jupiter and Leech and their sister, Dab. When Spittle chooses Jupiter to be his familiar and trains him in the dark arts, Leech becomes bitter and resentful and begins plotting against his brother. Meanwhile plague and fire are sweeping London. Death is everywhere and Spittle's immortal quest could be the only way out.  

 'Fondest memories' might be an odd thing to say about a book where the cats spend a lot of time learning dark magic and trying to kill each other (except for Dab, who tries to keep the peace between her brothers). But our teacher in year 5 read this book to us at breaktimes and the whole class was absolutely transfixed. I had not read a book before where animal characters had such vivid personalities, and yet at no point seemed like humans. On his website Robin Jarvis says that he had wanted to write a story that would 'combine the world of humans and animals' and this is exactly what he does. The murky and dangerous setting of plague-ridden 17th-century London warps and moulds the minds of the rescued kittens, just as it does young Will Godwin and old evil Dr Spittle. 

Warning: after reading you might look at cats in a new light and become convinced they are evil. Personally I'm cool with that and think that if they rise up and take over the world then they will probably do quite a good job.

Given this, I think I'd better pick a cat as my family pet as it is best to get on their side now. Also, they are vampires:

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