My reading is currently outstripping my posting, so, even though I really do like to do things one book-one post, today I am clearing the decks of a few of animal fantasies that were nominated for the Cybils in middle grade sci fi/fantasy. I've organized them by animal type.
In my Cybils reading to date (83 out of 151 books nominated) I have encountered only one book featuring dogs-- Pipper's Secret Ingredient, by Jane Murphy and Allison Fingerhuth, and even this one is not a fantasy because it has magic, but it's a fantasy because dogs are doing very human things. The heroine of the story is a dog named Pipper who has an incredibly popular cooking blog...and a case of writer's block. At last, with the help of her doggy friends (introduced in an info-dump early on) inspiration strikes, and she sets off on a trip around the world, searching for the secret ingredient that makes for a perfect treat.
It's charmingly illustrated, and I enjoyed the inclusion of pages and snippet's from Pipper's blog. It is, due to the nature of the plot, somewhat episodic--Pipper in Egypt, Pipper in Paris, Pipper in Peru, but there is a subplot that links things together involving a dastardly food tycoon's efforts to find out what Pipper might discover. He sets a bumbling dog spy on her trail, adding humor and a bit of excitement to the story.
This is one to give to readers who like cooking and dogs; I'm not sure it has much more general child appeal, especially since the dogs are grown-ups.
(review copy received from the author for Cybils purposes)
Signed by Zelda, by Kate Feiffer, is the story of a New York pigeon and its three human friends--Lucy, who's been dragged unwillingly away from Georgia by her parents, Nicky, the boy who lives in the room above hers, spending lots of time jumping off his bed while he's in time-out (which is often), and Nicky's Grandmother Zelda, who lives even further up the building.
This is fantasy because Pigeon actually communicates with the humans, but really it's a mystery that revolves around Lucy's expertise in handwriting analysis, and the disappearance of Grandmother Zelda under shady circumstances. Definitely more appeal for mystery lovers than for fantasy lovers.
I myself liked the handwriting analysis aspect of the book lots (there are little snippets of handwriting analysis instruction), and Pigeon added interest, but the family dynamics that are at the heart of the book didn't work for me. I couldn't believe in the choices Nicky's father makes (they are bad ones), and the sudden forgiveness that happens at the end.
This is a multicultural one--Lucy's family is from India, and though she's small on the cover, she's convincingly depicted:
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire!, by Polly Horvath, is really truly animal fantasy (though there is also a mystery, it's not a mystery to the reader, who sees everything unfolding). Human girl Madeline is the practical member of her family--her parents are hippies, living a live of spiritual vegetarian
flakiness, and she's the one that changes the light bulbs. When her parents are kidnapped by evil foxes (it's a long story), Madeline is fortuitously taken in by two eccentric bunnies, who, though scattered in their thinking, and operating primarily by instinct, have decided to become detectives. Clearly their first case must be to find Madeline's parents....
The world of the bunnies mirrors the human world, and Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are tremendously appealing (perhaps more so for an older reader, who finds the bickerings and humorous accommodations of old married couples more easy to relate to!). Though the humor was slightly one-note, it was still very diverting.
(Goodness--I just checked the Amazon reviews of this one, and it managed to upset a number of people who take deliberate, over-the-top caricature to be deliberate propaganda against all that is decent. Many were upset that Madeline's hippy father uses the word "crap" early in the book (I didn't register it), and indeed, it's a word I wish wasn't in my own kids' vocabulary, and I'm a bit surprised the editors let it pass).
Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet, by Henry Homeyer has an ancient mystery--a lost Native American silver peace pipe (the calumet of the title); a ghost--the Revolutionary War soldier who was supposed to give it to George Washington; a foundling boy named Wobar who was born with a mustache, and a mountain lion named Roxie with whom he communicate telepathically.
Together, Roxie and Wobar must make their way from upstate New York to New Orleans to find the calumet and set it off on its path to bringing about world peace.
The adventures of the mountain lion and the boy are interesting--in particular, the logistical difficulties of being a small boy (with a moustache) travelling with a mountain lion are enjoyably explored. But I was never able to suspend my disbelief enough to thoroughly enjoy this one. I'll say straight up that the mustache threw me off lots--it didn't advance the plot, and I found it grotesque. Likewise, I didn't see why the main character had to be called "Wobar"--it's never explained why he's named that, or who he really is. On top of that, the calumet was very much a MacGuffin. This sort of thing makes it hard for me to suspend disbelief enough so as to enjoy a book.
I think this is a case where if you like the cover, with all the strange and exiting things that happen depicted in a somewhat unsophisticated style, you might well like the book.
(review copy received for Cybils purposes)