–Guest Blog by Rebecca Holland

Like a catchy song, a good book stays with you. You remember the story for a long time after you read it, even if you subconsciously forget specific details like the names of the characters or even subtle plot points. Unconsciously, the story changes you in some way, perhaps in a small imperceptible way, or in a larger, more noticeable way, even if you don’t immediately notice it yourself until you look back years later.

Nowhere is that more true than in the books we read as children. Threads of thought from the story form part of the neural pathways our developing minds create: essentially, our childhood stories become part of us as we grow. It is why reading is so important to children, as it opens their eyes to different opinions, voices and views that they might not hear from their immediate family or surroundings. The characters become friends. Stories fill daydreams, and our minds when we sleep. Especially for me, a shy and reclusive child. 

I imagined fictional characters into real, but very imaginary, friends. And for the incredible amount of books I read as a child (I was a voracious reader), I found the best of friends in characters with extra legs, furry ears or a long mane. Animal companions, both found in the real world, like horses, and entirely fictional animal companions, like unicorns, became imaginary friends to whom I wrote very-real letters to. I still have those letters to this day.

Without truly knowing it, I had grown a love of animals from the books I had read, and as an adult, my love for animals, and animal companions, persisted. I came to care deeply for the animals that I could physically see and touch, volunteering to house stray and abandoned cats for a pet charity while they searched for those cats’ forever homes. I fell in love with all kinds of new animals, like pigs and goats, and chose to fly to Spain to volunteer at an animal sanctuary, muck out stables and help care for these gentle creatures. 

I wanted to reflect back on some of these stories featuring animal companions that stuck with me. It would be impossible to list them all, but in this blog post there are a few stories that immediately come to mind when I’m asked “what did you love reading as a child?” 

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Publisher: Jarrold & Sons. Published; November 24, 1877

Black Beauty was originally published in 1877, and is one of those remarkable books that truly stands the test of time. I read it as a child in the 1990’s, falling in love with the black stallion and having my heart broken, and mended, and broken all over again. You could argue that it’s not suitable as a children’s story, given how sad it is, but I know this book impacted how I saw animals as I grew older, filling me with empathy for these magnificent creatures that have little choice in how their lives pan out. It also showed me that companionship with animals can be heartbreaking, but also rewarding. As an adult, I sought to treat animal companions like I would other humans, knowing they feel pain just like us. 

Charlotte’s Web (1952) by E. B. White

Publisher: Harper & Brothers. Published; October 15, 1877

Charlotte’s Web was compulsory reading in the primary school I attended. The plight of eight-legged Charlotte, a creature typically less liked because she’s one of the not-so-cute creatures, struck me as a child. I began to think about compassion for all creatures, not only the ones we see as cute or fluffy. As an adult, I realized it went much deeper than that, challenging our bias in making first impressions on people too, based on how many extra legs they have, rather than who they are on the inside. 

The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton 

Publisher: George Newnes Ltd. Published; 1946

Enid Blyton is notorious for having animal companions, both totally imaginary and based on real life animals, in her novels. I remember reading one where a child befriended a wild squirrel who used to perch on his shoulder, and join the children for adventures. I can’t remember the name of that book for the life of me, but The Folk of The Faraway Tree is one that I can remember clearly. Featuring a host of fantastical creatures, like a family of chattering squirrels that live in a giant tree and carry messages, to a man with a moon-face. It was a book that ignited my imagination and made me dream of going on adventures myself. 

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Published 1894                             

This is a book I encountered as a film first, but the characters stuck with me so much that I read the original stories. Published in 1894, it is another story that has stood the test of time, with Baloo the Bear being a favorite of mine. I loved his cheery spirit, and he taught me that we can sing our way through life if we want to, because, why not! I also loved the found family aspect of Mowgli finding two parent-like figures in these animals who were not like him physically, and it showed me that we can love children that don’t look like us. I think any pet parent can relate to the story in this one. 

Do you remember reading any of these as a child? What books would you add to this list? If you are looking for other good books to give to kids, I offer more here.


More about the author, Rebecca Holland

Rebecca Holland is a writer from the UK. She’s an animal lover with a soft spot for purring cats, especially when she’s reading, and loves nothing more than a good book with animal companions. Check out some of Rebecca’s other work at VelvetOpus.com and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Published On: April 11, 2022|Categories: Courtney's Corner - Book and Film Reviews|