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   Animal Family, The, by Randall Jarrell  
  Novel, first publication in March 1965 , latest edition in March 1997
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       Additional Information  
      "Once upon a time, long, long ago, where the forest runs down to the ocean, a hunter lived all alone in a house made of logs he had chopped for himself and shingles he had split for himself." These words ease the reader into the elegant, dreamlike world of Randall Jarrell's Newbery Honor book The Animal Family. One night, the lonely hunter hears the singing of a mermaid, and because "he himself was as patient as an animal," the mermaid learns to trust him, speaking to him in a voice like the water. In time they teach each other their languages, with many amusing exchanges occurring as the hunter tries to teach his new friend terrestrial words and concepts. The hunter explains, "The house is a big wooden thing ... that you stay inside at night or when it rains." "Why?" she asks. "To keep from getting wet." "To keep from getting wet?" the mermaid says despairingly.

    The mermaid and the hunter become a family when the hunter takes a bear cub from its mother to live with them as a son. "The bear's table manners were bad. But so were the mermaid's--especially as she couldn't resist throwing the bear pieces of fish." Having a bear around seems perfectly normal, but not quite a complete family, so eventually the hunter captures a spotted baby lynx. When the lynx brings home not another dead partridge, but a little boy, the delicate, playful family dynamics change again. This book of low-key epiphanies is packed with delightful, illuminating, often unexpected comparisons of the ocean world and the land world most non-mermaids wouldn't have considered. Enhanced by a beautiful design and gorgeous illustrations by Maurice Sendak, this book is perfect for any reader--young or old--ready for a bit of gentle philosophy with a decided twinkle. (All ages)

    Source: Karin Snelson,

      Related theme(s)  
  • Intelligent Animals - Talking Animals - Sentient Animals
  • Mermaids
  • Young Reader - Books for Children (9 to 12)

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