Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SILVERWING and talking animals

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I’ve never written a talking animal.  I’m not inspired by reducing the natural limitations of characters. In fact more than once I’ve written a character whose ability to communicate is somehow impeded. This is more narratively interesting to me.

That said, I’ve read many books with talking animals, and enjoyed them. I thought for this week’s MMGM I’d list a few.

I’ll already reviewed THE ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIONS by Dodie Smith. Great but under-rated book. The talking animals never become forced in this, because they can only talk to each other, and also because there are a few scenes where they struggle to communicate with the humans.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White is another classic talking animal book, that I compare with another similarly themed book wherein the animal doesn’t talk. Of course this is an absolute must read classic.

A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE by George Selden is a book I remember loving as a child. I don’t know about now. Maybe it’s a different world, but I can’t see an insect protagonist taking off today (excuse the pun). But this is a good one for younger readers.

STUART LITLLE, also by E.B. White is a strange one. Stuart is “born” to the little family, but is a mouse. He can speak to his family, he can speak to the cat. Does the cat speak to the family? Why would intelligent animals submit to being pets? Another great one for little kids, but these days, I think kids over about 7 would start asking uncomfortable questions. Maybe that’s good.

One of my favorite talking animal books is SILVERWING by Kenneth Oppel. What I love about this now extensive series of books about bats is that their culture is presented as very “batty”. Yes, they speak to each other, but only about things of relevance to bats. They have little or no knowledge of the human world (in fact I think at least one of the books in the series is set in pre-human times). Oppel was very thorough in creating the culture and mythology of these bats and their interactions with nature, each other and other animals such as the owls, with whom they are at war. In my experience this is an excellent book for slightly older reluctant boys 10-14 years. SILVERWING is 59000 words and has a reading level of grade 4-5.

Talking animals may be out of style with agents and editors, but I don’t think they are with readers. And that’s all that counts. While I don’t have any plans to write a talking animal book anytime soon, you never know. Maybe inspiration will strike.

For this week’s I Can’t Wait to Read I’m going with CHOMP by Carl Hiaasen. It sounds like a great and silly adventure in the real world of reality TV. I love the cover too – so graphic. Hello? Book Depository?

For this week’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday 

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts check out these blogs:

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9 thoughts on “Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – SILVERWING and talking animals

  1. Although Charlotte’s Web is on my list of all-time favorite reads, I’m usually a hard sell on talking animals. With that said, if it’s the RIGHT story, I can also love talking animal stories.

  2. I don’t love books about talking animals but I’ve been surprised on occasion. Susan Collin’s Gregor the Overlander is one you might like. It has people and talking bugs and a well-developed fantasy world. She wrote it before The Hunger Games.

  3. As a kid, I loved books about talking animals. 101 Dalmations was one of my favorites. My mom even threw me a 101 Dalmations birthday party [pin the spot on Pongo, black-and-white chocolate cupcakes, etc.] 🙂 I still enjoy stories where animals talk, or people and animals communicate (on a deeper level than “Sit!” “Stay!” or “Woof!”)
    e.g., Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy is a dense, richly-drawn fantasy world, with complex royal politics and power struggles; but at the heart of it is a relationship between the protagonist Fitz and his wolf.

    Have you ever read DOGSBODY, by Diana Wynne Jones? Often labeled YA, it’s a fabulous blend of sci-fi, fantasy, coming-of-age, thriller, and mythology: The Dog Star, Sirius, is falsely accused of a crime and banished to earth…in the body of a puppy. He’s adopted by a lonely girl and his mission is to recover a celestial weapon, but he has no memory of his previous existence. He’s just growing up as a dog, learning to deal with people and cats 😉
    It’s funny and poignant and exciting. It used to be hard to find, but I think there’s a new release coming out.

  4. I particularly enjoyed the Silverwing series because, as you say, they’re very batty: the characters aren’t just people with fur and wings. And I thought the bat mythology was very convincing. Like Watership Down in that regard.

    Dogsbody is a fascinating book, well worth seeking out.

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