The Realistic Animal Story in Canadian Children's Literature
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The Realistic Animal Story in Canadian Children's Literature

The realistic animal story was the first original genre developed by Canadian writers. It was primarily the work of two authors, Charles G. D. Roberts and Ernest Thompson Seton who wrote out of boyhood experiences with the wilderness in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Seton in Ontario and Roberts in New Brunswick. Roberts and Seton aimed to write realistic narratives portraying the true story of real animals—a kind of animal biography. They sought to correct the image of animals chained to blind instinct, but they were equally anxious not to anthropomorphize them. They were interested in what Roberts calls "animal psychology." Above all they wanted to re-integrate the human animal into the whole natural environment—"the old kinship of earth." These two authors gave the genre both its form and definition, and later Canadian writers have been faithful to their conception of the realistic animal story.

Ernest Thompson Seton's best known book is Wild Animals I Have Known. It is a good book of this type for children because it contains a variety of animals among whom are Lobo, the wolf; Silverspot, a crow; Bingo, the author's dog; and Redruff, the partridge. It is interesting that in a book bearing this title Seton includes his dog, an animal associated by the child reader with the domestic environment. In addition to this book, I would suggest for inclusion in a library Seton's The Biography of a Grizzly and Animal Heroes.

First among the works of Charles G. D. Roberts, I would put Red Fox, his one book length story. While at times it stretches the limits of credulity, as in the episode when Red Fox and his mate uncover the hunter's traps in order to warn other animals of the danger, it maintains the excitement and adventure that appeals to children. Among his other works I would suggest the varied and appealing Kindred of the Wild, a collection of short stories of animals inhabiting the forests of his native New Brunswick. And finally, Thirteen Bears, a group of bear stories brought together in 1947.

Perhaps the Canadian nature writer who captured the public imagination more than any other was Grey Owl. His children's book, The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People, recounts the adventures of two Indian children and two beaver kittens. The kittens are not regarded as pets, but rather as children needing surrogate parents. The book ends with the children and their father returning the beavers to their home pond. To children exposed to Born Free this is a most acceptable conclusion, but Grey Owl published in 1935; Born Free was published in 1960.

Later Canadian writers in this genre are Roderick Haig-Brown, Farley Mowat, Fred Bodsworth, Cameron Langford and David Allen-by Smith. Of these Haig-Brown sticks closest to Seton's notion of the realistic animal story. If anything he is more stark and realistic at times than Seton, particularly in Panther set in the locale of Vancouver Island. The story, told in documentary style, is of a panther Ki-Yu, and the tension centres on the attempt of one specific [End Page 8] hunter, David Smith, to kill Ki-Yu. They are equal antagonists and each respects the other. It is a fascinating and wholly absorbing story.

Farley Mowat's Cry Wolf is the story of his own observation of a family of wolves in the Barren Lands of the Arctic. Here Mowat is an integral part of the story. He is the observer. The wolves in the book are the wolves he observes. When Mowat starts out he had no first-hand knowledge of wolves, and, set down all alone in the Barrens, he has to devise ways to cope with his assignment. The reader as a similar neophyte is immediately engaged in his adventure. The reader is fascinated to see Mowat adapt to the wolves' routine in order to observe them better. The tenor of the book is soon obvious—complete sympathy with the wolves as misunderstood creatures.

Bods worth in The Last of the Curlews tells of the extinction of a...