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As a dog owner and all around animal lover, I’ve always wondered what my dog or the animals around us had to say. Would they have some great insights to impart on the world? Maybe something like slow down and enjoy the world? Or would it just be a litany of feed me, feed me, feed me? The field of animal consciousness has been exploding as previous paradigms of what it means to be human are being dissolved and we discover that diverse species can do impressive things, from using tools to recognizing themselves in a mirror — to only name a few.
In literature, there are books, many of them children’s or YA books, that imagine the world from the viewpoint of an animal. Many classic children’s books feature animals, like the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel or any books by Richard Scarry. But there are adult books written from the perspectives of animals, too, which thrills me. And they are not just books from the viewpoints of cats and dogs — though I’m absolutely down with those books — there are books from diverse animals from polar bears to bees. These narrators can cast a light on humanity in a way that a human narrator may not. Some of these books show animal narrators living human-like lives while others focus on the world of the animals.
Here are 10 of the best of these books that feature animal narrators.
A Dog’s Life by Peter Mayle
While best known for his nonfiction work A Year in Provence, Mayle has written a delightful comedy all in the eyes of a dog named Boy. While he does not know much about his pedigree, this erudite dog explores his native Provence, everything from its food and seductive treasures to its foes. With his discerning eye, he gazes upon the follies and foibles of humankind.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky
While human celebrity memoirs are all the rage, this one takes a different spin by focusing on polar bears. Told in three parts, it starts with grandmother polar bear, a famous writer, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to Canada, her daughter Tosca who joins the circus, and grandson Knut in the Berlin Zoo. Tawada said she was inspired by an actual polar bear of the same name at the same zoo.
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Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
Can someone save the world by watching TV? S.T., a crow owned by Big Jim, might have to. Something is wrong with his owner — his eye popped out — but nothing seems to help. He learns from his friends that there is something very wrong in the human world, so S.T. has to set out to try to make things right. Armed with his knowledge of television shows and a tongue-and-cheek view of the world, S.T. contends with the apocalypse all while securing quite a few laughs from readers. There are two books in the series so far.
I Am a Cat (I am a Cat #1-3) by Natsume Sōseki, Translated by Aiko Ito, Translated by Graeme Wilson
Finally, we’ve got a cat book! As we’ve seen with A Dog’s Life, animal narrators provided a great way to analyze and critique human society. Sōseki does this effectively through the eyes of a cat who can point out the contradictions of human society in Meiji era Japan. It’s perfect for people who want the cat’s eye perspective and/or want to read turn of the 20th century Japanese literature.
The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa, Daniel Hahn (Translator)
We’ve had birds, dogs, cats, and other notable mammals. Now it’s time for a reptile. This is told through the eyes of a lizard who lives on the wall of Felix Ventura just after Angola won its independence from Portugal. While the fires are still burning politically, some people want to revise their pasts, given the political uncertainty of the time. All of this is told through the eyes of a lizard.
The Bees by Laline Paull
As a fan of bees, I was thrilled to discover this work from the viewpoint of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a hive. Flora 717 discovers that she is not like her sisters and has to hide her qualities on threat of death. She moves steadily up the ranks from the nursery, becoming a forager and even securing herself a position in the Queen’s court. Can she survive amidst hostile agents who want to remove her? Or can she find a place to live her life to the fullest?
Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood by James Lever
Like Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Me Cheeta is another take on the celebrity tell-all memoir. This particular animal memoir is told from the perspective of Cheeta, designated the World’s Funniest Animal. Cheeta, who has outlived his Tarzan co-stars, details his life from his youth in Liberia’s jungles to his time in Hollywood and his retirement. In addition to writing his memoirs, he’s now an abstract painter. It’s a fun read to see the world from one of our closest ancestors as well as a look at old Hollywood.
Brilliant White Peaks by Teng Rong
If you want something more raw, here’s the book for you. It features two wolf siblings who have to make their way through the wild. The story explores the glory and cruelty of the natural world as the two siblings try to find their parents. Perfect for wolf-lovers everywhere.
Nezumi’s Children by T.L. Bodine
Last but not least, here’s one that focuses on rats in a pet shop. When their prophet Nezumi passes, she tells them to beware the Big Water. Soon her prophecies come true with water everywhere. Can the rats survive this catastrophe? How will it impact their view of the world?
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, translated by Anthea Bell
Ending the list is a murder mystery…from the perspective of a herd of sheep. One day, the sheep discover their shepherd dead from a spade. These sheep are not going to take this lying down. A team of sheep including Miss Maple, the smart sheep, and Zora, a thoughtful sheep, get together to find clues to unearth the killer. It’s a new take on the mystery genre; I can only hope we get more mysteries from non-human perspectives.
For folks who want nonfiction feel good books, this list is for you! Here’s a list for people who want more adult books about animals!