Book Review: The Animal Dialogues

Craig Childs’ book, The Animal Dialogues (Uncommon Encounters in the Wild), is an insightful look at how a naturalist spends his free time. Liam, who is our animal-nut around these parts, is lapping up the delightful (and, at times, downright scary) encounters between human and beast.

Childs divides the book into chapters that each contains a single animal. He then details the intersection between his curiosity and the animal’s natural instincts… often to the point where you wonder: What on earth were you thinking, Craig?

What makes this book such a delightful choice for you and your kids is… you guessed it: the writing. Childs is a natural story-teller. He grabs you by the shirt-collar and holds you against the wall until your pulse finally slackens as he demonstrates his improbable escapes.

Here’s a sample of his terrific writing:

“The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey. It would also pursue secret solitude, disappearing for weeks on end while people were expecting it at upcoming meetings. At the moment, it was bold and aloof, making sure we knew we were being watched, but keeping its distance.”

The first section includes the following animals:

Mountain Lion
Cat and Mouse (A hilarious chapter! We couldn’t stop laughing.)

He continues with birds (raptors!), moutain animals like elk and bighorn sheep, and then runs through the gamut of unusual fellows such as rattlesnakes, rainbow trout and even mosquitoes. His final ode is to the most complex beast of all: the human.

Childs is frequently a guest on NPR so you may have heard him share his bits of naturalistic advice and wisdom there. More than anything, I find this to be a perfect read-aloud. Each chapter has suspense and closure. You can read each one over a several month period, one per week, or read them all in a row (like we are).


5 Responses to “Book Review: The Animal Dialogues”

  1. Angela, MotherCrone says:

    I am assuming since your Liam is reading it, it is suitable for at least middle-school age children? I will be teaching a course at our homeschool learning center next fall , titled “A Year in Nature.” I will be taking the children on a journey into the natural world, using nature journaling and nature writing as well as hands on activities. I am drafting it now, and this sounds quite interesting. Would you recommend this as something to check out?

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    I would select specific stories. We just read one today that included references to getting drunk (the adults) so yes, you wouldn’t want to assign it indiscriminately. On the other hand, most of the stories we’ve read so far have been perfectly acceptable (by our family standards). We are reading it together (aloud).

    Hope that helps! I’d probably read it myself before assigning it to students.

  3. Sounds like a fantastic read! Nooo…. too many books on the wishlist already! 🙁

  4. Sonja says:

    Love this!! We’ll be adding it to our reading list as my son is a nature nut. I read the quote to him and assigned it to him for copywork last week. He loves the word ‘smugness.’ Thank you! This is the first time EVER that he has expressed a love for anything having to do with words. 🙂

  5. Anna says:

    Julie, you have a talent for pointing us in the direction of fascinating books we’d never have heard of otherwise!

    Since we found your site and have been getting your reminders, we’ve bought a book on bird “pishing” which we loved, as well as poetry books by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein, the Nitty Gritty Grammar books, and Peter Elbow’s “Writing with Power”. Oh! And the fabulous Eragon books – I’m really sweating on the third one coming out …

    Thanks for your on-going support and consistently inspiring recommendations!