Best Animal Books

28 September, 2016


If you enjoyed our very special Clare Balding and The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop episode and would like some recommendations of other excellent animal books for children of all ages then look no further...

Children of all ages love tend to love animals in books – but farms and zoos definitely hold a big fascination for very small children. Usborne’s Peep Inside the Farm is a lovely introduction to the farmyard with things to peep at and discover, while Dear Zoo is a Rod Campbell classic and as popular with babies and toddlers today as when it was published in 1982. A much more recent title but one I think will continue to be very popular for years to come is the board book edition of Oi Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field – it’s very good fun to read aloud.

It might just be me but I often think that picture book fans can be divided into those who like dogs in their books and those who would prefer cats. For the former group, Emily Gravett’s beautifully drawn and water-coloured book, Dogs, and published earlier this year, Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie’s wonderful Detective Dog should go down well. For the cat fans amongst you, I personally always plump for the very funny Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore – many of us have known a cat like that greedy scamp… I’m also a big fan of There Are Cats in this Book by Vivian Schwarz – a wonderfully playful book.  

For slightly older children there are plenty of lovely books about all different kinds of animals. Obviously we highly recommend Clare Balding’s The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop – and if that has inspired a horse and pony obsession in a child you know then why not try Clare’s favourite childhood book, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. If that whets your appetite then move on to Stacy Gregg – there’s plenty to choose from but I particularly like the Pony Club Secrets series.

If the farmyard elements in Clare’s book appealed then Cowgirl by GR Gemin and The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters will both be absolutely perfect choices. And if you know a child who loves classics then steer them towards Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith – two of my childhood favourites. In fact, you can’t really go wrong with Dick King-Smith so any, or all, of his animal books should delight most young readers.

Animal books get a little bit rarer once you get into the Teenage section of the bookshop but there are still some really excellent ones to look out for. I mentioned The Glory by Lauren St. John on our recent DTRH episode because it really is brilliant – part-thriller, part-romance, part-adventure and all set in the American west around a gruelling horse race; I couldn’t put it down. Blending horse racing with the more fantastical is Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races, an intense, thrill ride of a book.

And finally, a special mention for Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood which is now over 40 years old but still absolutely wonderful; if you’re made of stern stuff of course. It contains both adventure and heartbreak, and also serves as a reminder of how precious animal habitats are. Plus, it’s full of fantastic characters. I’m off to weep into my battered old copy with a cuppa right now…

Here are a few more of our favourites that we didn't get chance to mention in September's show


The Princess And The Pony by Kate Beaton: a story about the precious bond between a girl and her farting pony, this is in many ways the perfect younger complement to The Racehorse That Wouldn't Gallop.


Olga da Polga by Michael Bond illustrated by Catherine Rayner: the children’s classic about a guinea pig with a penchant for rather extraordinary tales...


One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. This is a must-read for young dog-lovers: it will warm your heart, and bring a tear to your eye.