10 Fiction Novels With an Animal Rights Message
There are tons of brilliant books available about animals rights. Exposing issues like animal cruelty and the horrors of factory farming, there’s a lot of information out there but, let’s be honest, it is not always easy to stomach.
While non-fiction animal rights books are essential to informing the public and promoting social change, they’re not exactly your ‘easy-read, let me cuddle up with a nice book’ kind of tome. Enter fiction.
With make-believe characters, intricate plots and descriptive prose that can’t help but draw the reader in, fiction novels can make readers think about serious issues — even if they’re not the main point of the story.
“One of the greatest assets you have when you tell a really compelling story is that you put people in the shoes of the animals and it makes them empathetic,” explains Christopher Locke, author of Persimmon Takes on Humanity, a YA adventure novel that tackles a plethora of ways in which humans can be cruel to animals. “If you’re able to put yourself in their shoes, it’s like you become friends with them and how would you want your friends to go through that? It helps the reader build an emotional connection with the animals.”
The characters in these 10 fiction novels definitely accomplish that with storylines that are real page-turners.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Published in 1877, when horses were used for agriculture and transportation, with their feelings being the least of people’s concerns, the book was intended to show horse owners that the animals needed love and affection to flourish.
“Black Beauty helped people see animals in a new way,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and horse lover Jane Smiley to NPR about the children’s classic. “As soon as you say that an animal has a point of view, then it’s very difficult to just go and be cruel to that animal. … [It showed] readers that the world is full of beings who should not be treated like objects.”
Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
What happens to lab rats once they’ve been experimented on for medical research? In Doctor Rat, one of them goes mad and tells the tale of his life to readers in the most compelling and shocking way possible: through anecdotes. The sarcastic and funny tone of the book makes it entertaining while in between the lines, the novel begs readers to reconsider their stance on animal experimentation.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and Garth Williams
The children’s classic has a lot to offer in the animal rights department when being read by a grown up. In the words of E.B. White himself: “A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always.”
Wilbur, the pig, doesn’t want to die, and his friend Charlotte, the spider, doesn’t want him to die either but despite their self-awareness and will to live, their fate is completely in the hands of human farmers.
Persimmon Takes on Humanity by Christopher Locke
Persimmon is a clever and compassionate raccoon and when she sees the atrocities humans are doing to animals, she can’t help but try to stop it all. But will she and her loyal forest friends just just fall victim to the cruel system of abuse they’re trying to stop?
The first three chapters of the book are available for free on Locke’s website and Persimmon is still planned to continue her adventures for two more novels. The second one of the series is expected to come out in early 2017.
Holy Cow by David Duchovny
When a happy-go-lucky cow named Elsie finds out the humans who own the farm where she lives have plans to kill her and her friends for meat, she has no choice but to plan an escape. Elsie and her group of charismatic animal buddies — a pig recently converted to Judaism and a turkey who thinks he’s a suave Don Juan — go on the run for their lives. The pop culture references and unlikely situations the animals get themselves in will keep you smiling but the message that these nice animals have no interest in dying to end up in a plate is the center point of the novel.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Potterheads cannot deny the points made about animal rights in the Harry Potter books, even if those critters are magical. Between dragons used for cruel sports during the Triwizard Cup, Hagrid’s love for magical creatures, the hippogriph being sentenced to death when Malfoy mishandles him, and the snake Harry accidentally frees at the zoo thanking him for his newfound freedom, it’s clear J.K. Rowling is on the animals’ side.
Legend of the Healer series by Lauren St. John
After Martine’s parents are killed in a fire, the 11-year-old is forced to move to Africa to live in a wildlife reserve with a grandmother she never even knew she had. Once she arrives, however, she makes friends — human and animal ones — and she’s exposed to issues like poaching, animal abuse and conservation. The books are mystery novels for kids but animal loving adults can’t help but relate to Martine’s passion — and be super jealous of her friendship with her pet giraffe.
Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
The story of a deaf girl, Joey, who bonds with a chimpanzee named Sukari, shows the two sides of a coin when it comes to human-animal relationships. The girl connects with Sukari on a deep level and is able to develop an extraordinary friendship that makes both grow immensely, but the humans that take Sukari away to be experimented upon in a lab have no concern for her emotions at all and see her as another object in the laboratory. The book is another children’s novel that will keep grown ups thinking and rethinking about the issues explored.
The Tourist Trail by John Yunker
Biologist Angela Haynes works with penguins in Patagonia, a job she loves since she gets to work with animals she deeply respects and cares for, but when a mysterious man washes up ashore, she is thrust into an unexpected journey. The thriller unfolds as FBI agent Robert Porter investigates the story, and Ethan Downes, a computer tech, finds his love for animals will motivate him to risk his life to save the endangered birds in the Antarctic waters.
My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Daniel Quinn’s ‘Ishmael’ is an award-winning classic where the main character, a gorilla named Ishmael, attempts to teach humans how to change the world into a better place. In the sequel, My Ishmael, readers get to learn about Ishmael’s past, with Quinn directly addressing the issues of animal abuse, animals used in entertainment and even animal trafficking. Get the tissues ready for this one!
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