Who hasn't wished they could, like Dr Doolittle, talk to the animals? Just imagine it: chattin' with a chimp in chimpanzee. Plenty of authors have, from E.B White to Lewis Caroll and Yann Martell, and the stories they've left behind offer us a flight of fancy into how to communicate with our furry friends.
While there are undeniably more books about, say, dogs than there are dolphins, a vast expanse of the animal kingdom is represented in books they'll never read. Mercifully, we can – and we've rounded up the best of them for this practically purrfect literary animal alphabet.
A is for Ant
B is for Bear
C is for Caterpillar
D is for Dog
Snoopy by Charles M. Schultz
It was not without controversy that the Penguin.co.uk team ranked the 10 best dogs in fiction, and so in the name of consistency – and to avoid a ruckus – we maintain our position here. Good Boys and Girls appear, of course, in Ulyesses, Anna Karenina and Of Mice and Men, but have any captured the heart like Snoopy? No, no they haven’t.
Before H is for Hawk, Q was for Quail. In the mid-Sixties, an unlikely book about a bird became a bestseller. Sound familiar? Bobby White, a quail hatchling, emerged in a nest of the Cape Cod home of a retired couple. When their friend, a former children’s nurse Margaret Stanger, quail-sat Robert for three months an unlikely affinity emerged – and one that caught the attention of a nation. That Quail, Robert, fluttered up the New York Times bestseller chart.
R is for Rabbit
S is for Sheep
T is for Tiger
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A Canadian philosophical novel about a castaway tiger that may or may not exist doesn’t sound like a natural phenomenon, and yet that is exactly what Martel created on the turn of the new millennium. Life of Pi has sold more than 12 million copies across 50 countries, and inspired an Oscar-winning adaptation. At its heart? A bengal tiger so vivid and striped it dominates every cover.
V is for Vole
W is for Worm
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Nematode: it’s a kind of worm, don’t ya know?! We learn of its many benefits to the scientific community in Brandon Taylor’s Booker Prize-nominated college story, Real Life. Love, life and academia entwine as biochemistry student Wallace pleads for good results from his worms in an attempt to make sense of who he is, and what he wants.
X is for Xenarthra
Sparky! By Jenny Offill
Xenarthra is the group name for several animals, among them, sloths - an unlikely source of literary inspiration. Their meandering pace to life has been at the heart of several books, but among the best is Sparky! By Jenny Offill. Perhaps better known for her autofiction, which has accrued a cult-like following of readers, Offill is also the author of a heartwarming picture book about a sloth who makes a rather too sanguine pet.