Think back to the books that were read to you as a child. Many of them featured animals as the main characters. Cute, usually fuzzy, and always relatable, we took comfort in animal stories. As we got older and could read on our own, animals still featured heavily in many chapter books. Charlotte’s Web, The Black Stallion, and Misty of Chincoteague are a few that come to mind. As our reading levels advanced, animal stories took a backseat to those featuring humans, though they still existed, such as Watership Down and Flowers for Algernon. As an adult and crazy cat lady, I still enjoy animal tales, mainly nonfiction about animal and human interactions. They might not always be cute and comforting, but they are always rewarding reads. Here are some I recommend:
The Puma Years, opens a new window by Laura Coleman
In her early twenties and feeling unmoored, Coleman quit her job to backpack around Bolivia, finding herself at Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi, a wildlife sanctuary at the jungle’s edge. Assigned to help a puma named Wayra, the wide-eyed Coleman immersed herself in life at the sanctuary among a hundred rescued animals, each with their own personalities and needs, and their human caregivers. The abundance of love and care that the sanctuary’s volunteers pour into their rescues is contrasted against the harsh realities of deforestation, illegal pet trade, and forest fires. Despite the grim conditions, Coleman is hooked and finds herself drawn repeatedly back to the sanctuary and to Wayra.
The Year of the Horses, opens a new window by Courtney Maum
Struggling with depression that therapy and medication can’t seem to touch and desperate to find relief, Maum returns to her childhood love of horseback riding. Now in her mid-30s, married, and mother to a toddler, Maum’s life appears perfect on paper but is coming apart at the seams. Remembering the joy and freedom she felt when riding horses as a girl, she decides on a whim to take up polo in an effort to reclaim herself. Sprinkled throughout Maum’s wryly humorous memoir are compelling anecdotes of horse cultural history, from the origins of polo to Artax, the drowning horse in The Neverending Story.
Loving Edie, opens a new window by Meredith May
San Francisco journalist May and her wife, Jenn, learned the hard way that every pet has its own unique personality, for better or for worse. Their previous golden retriever, Stella, embodied the perfect dog, so it wasn’t hard for May to convince Jenn to adopt a golden puppy. Though Edie is sweet and playful, she is plagued by severe fear and anxiety, freezing or bolting at the smallest provocation. May and Jenn, with the help of a puppy school instructor, learn protocols to help deal with Edie’s anxiety. Nothing--not relaxation CBD, Prozac, or a pet psychic--seems to help. Both women are growing desperate, and May eventually realizes that she must learn to accept Edie as she is.
Fox & I, opens a new window by Catherine Raven
Escaping an abusive home to begin college at 16, Raven worked as a park ranger in Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park before earning her Ph.D. in biology. After graduation, she built a small cottage on a remote piece of Montana land and began teaching for the University of Montana Western in Yellowstone National Park. At 4:15 each afternoon, a red fox began appearing near the cottage, so Raven started reading Antoine Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince to her visitor. They formed an unlikely bond, even hiking through the woods together. For the introverted Raven, this connection to nature was essential.
Bird Brother: A Falconer's Journey And The Healing Power Of Wildlife, opens a new window by Rodney Stotts with Kate Pipkin
Stott’s memoir of becoming a conservationist and one of America’s few Black master falconers is engaging and funny. Growing up in Washington, D.C., during the crack epidemic, Stotts saw guns, drugs, and incarceration affecting the lives of those around him, including himself. Working for the newly founded Earth Conservation Corps to help restore the Anacostia River, Stott’s life changed direction as he began to train as a master falconer and develop his own raptor education program and sanctuary. Stott’s uplifting memoir demonstrates both the healing power of nature and the capacity we all have to overcome hardship and pursue our dreams.
Below the Edge of Darkness, opens a new window by Edith Widder
Rising above complications from surgery during college that caused Widder to temporarily lose her vision, Widder became a marine biologist focused on oceanic bioluminescence. Disregarding the field’s lack of funding or guarantee of employment, Widder was hooked once she witnessed bioluminescence from a depth of 800 feet. Why was there so much light down there? In her search for answers, Widder explores unseen worlds, from microbes to giant squid, observing a vast range of animal life and behavior. Through Widder, we experience life-or-death equipment failure, stunning discoveries, and expanded awareness of our planet’s final frontier and its declining health.
Central Rappahannock Regional Library, in partnership with Blue Gray Therapy Dogs, offers virtual and in-person PAWS for Reading for grades K-6 and Time with a Therapy Dog for grade 7-adults with disabilities. Click the previous links, or visit librarypoint.org/events and search the keyword “dog.”
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.