Middle-grade books about animals are a bit hit or miss for me. I like stories about humans doing human things. But I know a few kids who are thrilled by animal stories. They like to think they can get in the mind of animals, and it must feel good to try to understand how your animal feels about all the things you do for them. I’ve compiled a list of some of the best middle-grade books about animals — a few of which I’ve read and enjoyed myself. I’ve also worked to include some highly-rated fantasy picks, even though I’m not a fan of the genre myself.
As with every book list, I’ve chosen books where animals are the main characters, not just books where animals feature. Many of these stories are narrated from the perspective of the animals. So if that’s your jam, you’ll love this list. You’ll find in this list middle-grade books about dogs, cats, mice, foxes, birds, and a few other interesting animals. Let’s get started.
Middle-Grade Books About Animals
Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.
In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
The One and Only Ivan
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
The One and Only Bob
Bob sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.
Bob, Ivan, and Ruby have touched the hearts of millions of readers, and their story isn’t over yet. Catch up with these beloved friends before the star-studded film adaptation of The One and Only Ivan hits theaters in August 2020!
The tale of Maximillian Fly—a human with cockroach features—whose quiet life is upended when he aids two human children in their escape from an oppressive governing power.
Maximillian Fly wants no trouble. Yet because he stands at six feet two, with beautiful indigo wings, long antennae, and more arms than you or me, many are frightened of him. He is a gentle creature that looks like a giant cockroach. This extraordinary human wants to prove his goodness, so he opens his door to two SilverSeed children in search of a place to hide. Instantly, Maximillian’s quiet, solitary life changes. There are dangerous powers after them and they have eyes everywhere. But in this gray city of Hope trapped under the Orb, is escape even possible?
A Wolf Called Wander
This gripping novel about survival and family is based on the real story of one wolf’s incredible journey to find a safe place to call home. Illustrated throughout, this irresistible tale by award-winning author Rosanne Parry is for fans of Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.
Swift, a young wolf cub, lives with his pack in the mountains learning to hunt, competing with his brothers and sisters for hierarchy, and watching over a new litter of cubs. Then a rival pack attacks, and Swift and his family scatter.
Alone and scared, Swift must flee and find a new home. His journey takes him a remarkable one thousand miles across the Pacific Northwest. The trip is full of peril, and Swift encounters forest fires, hunters, highways, and hunger before he finds his new home.
Ever since Cosmo became a big brother to Max ten years ago, he’s known what his job was: to protect his boy and make him happy. Through many good years marked by tennis balls and pilfered turkey, torn-up toilet paper and fragrant goose poop, Cosmo has doggedly kept his vow. Until recently, his biggest problems were the evil tutu-wearing sheepdog he met on Halloween and the arthritis in his own joints. But now, with Dad-scented blankets appearing on the couch and arguing voices getting louder, Cosmo senses a tougher challenge ahead. When Max gets a crazy idea to teach them both a dance routine for a contest, how can Cosmo refuse, stiff hips or no? Max wants to remind his folks of all the great times they’ve had together dancing — and make them forget about the “d” word that’s making them all cry. Told in the open, optimistic, unintentionally humorous voice of a golden retriever, I, Cosmo will grab readers from the first page — and remind them that love and loyalty transcend whatever life throws your way.
Ten years ago, an impossible thing happened: a flock of pigeons picked up a human baby who had been abandoned in an empty lot and carried her, bundled in blankets, to their roof. Coo has lived her entire life on the rooftop with the pigeons who saved her. It’s the only home she’s ever known.
But then a hawk nearly kills Burr, the pigeon she loves most, and leaves him gravely hurt. Coo must make a perilous trip to the ground for the first time to find Tully, a retired postal worker who occasionally feeds Coo’s flock and can heal injured birds.
Tully mends Burr’s broken wing and coaxes Coo from her isolated life. Living with Tully, Coo experiences warmth, safety, and human relationships for the first time. But just as Coo is beginning to blossom, she learns that the human world is infinitely more complex—and cruel—than she could have imagined.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.
Because of Winn-Dixie
One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries – and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie. Featuring a new cover illustration by E. B. Lewis.
This beloved book by E. B. White, author of Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, is a classic of children’s literature that is “just about perfect.” This high-quality paperback features vibrant illustrations colorized by Rosemary Wells!
Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.
Freya and Zoose
Freya has always craved–and feared–adventure. Traipsing all over the world is simply not what dignified rockhopper penguins do. But when she hears about Captain Salomon August Andrée’s hot-air balloon expedition to the North Pole, Freya packs her copy of Hints to Lady Travellers and hops on board.
Only moments after leaving land, Freya discovers a fellow stowaway! Meet Zoose, the scrappy, uncouth mouse whose endless wisecracks and despicable manners make him a less-than-ideal travel companion.
When the hot-air balloon is forced to land in the Arctic, these polar opposites must learn how to get along. Their very survival depends on it.
Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.
When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.
Gaby, Lost and Found
Wanted: One amazing forever home for one amazing sixth grader.”My name is Gaby, and I’m looking for a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a warm breakfast a couple of times a week. Having the newest cell phone or fancy clothes isn’t important, but I’d like to have a cat that I can talk to when I’m home alone.” Gaby Ramirez Howard loves volunteering at the local animal shelter. She plays with the kittens, helps to obedience train the dogs, and writes adoption advertisements so that the strays who live there can find their forever homes: places where they’ll be loved and cared for, no matter what.
Gaby has been feeling like a bit of a stray herself, lately. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby is stuck living with her inattentive dad. She’s confident that her mom will come home soon so that they can adopt Gaby’s favorite shelter cat together. When the cat’s original owners turn up at the shelter, however, Gaby worries that her plans for the perfect family are about to fall apart.
Sanity & Tallulah
Sanity Jones and Tallulah Vega are best friends on Wilnick, the dilapidated space station they call home at the end of the galaxy. So naturally, when gifted scientist Sanity uses her lab skills and energy allowance to create a definitely-illegal-but-impossibly-cute three-headed kitten, she has to show Tallulah. But Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds is a bit of a handful, and it isn’t long before the kitten escapes to wreak havoc on the space station.
The girls will have to turn Wilnick upside down to find her, but not before causing the whole place to evacuate! Can they save their home before it’s too late?
When Alice’s Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe. Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinarily fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo . . . and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.
Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat. Everyone wants to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it’s making them pie-crazy. It’s up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship. Family. And the pleasure of donig something for the right reason.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. And Mrs. Frisby in turn renders them a great service.
There they are: 17 of the best middle-grade books about animals! If you know any kids (or adults) who enjoy middle-grade books about animals, be sure to share this list with them!
Do you enjoy middle-grade books about animals? Which are your favorites? Please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments!