This week's release of Laline Paull's exceptional new novel, THE BEES, breathes new life into the long and storied tradition of the anthropomorphic novel. Enter the hive, a fascinating yet terrible dystopia where sanitation worker bee Flora 717 accidentally discovers that not all is what it seems in a world where free will is the worst possible offense. Flora’s curiosity and courage lead her down a dangerous path made all the more memorable because, well, she’s a bee.
Anthropomorphism, or giving human characteristics to anything other than a human (usually, though, to animals) has long produced great works of literature. If you haven't read the the following, maybe it's time to throw them on your pile.
WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. Awwww, look at the cute bunnies. Yeah, um okay. This is not a cute bunny book. Watership Down is the story of a cut-throat survival of a warren (uh, that's an underground colony for those who aren't fluent in rabbit-speak) of wild rabbits seeking to flee the coming apocalypse of mankind. Despotic leaders, epic adventure, bloody politics....how this novel was pigeonholed as children's literature baffles me. Someone gave me a copy when I was 10 and I'm still in therapy over it.
ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell. Another great dystopia featuring animals, but this one is Orwell's take on the 1917 Russian Revolution and the events that led to Stalin's bloody reign. Except it takes place in the barnyard. And you'll never look at a pig the same again. Ever. Just remember: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
THE MASTER AND THE MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov. Admittedly this one is a tough read. Okay, it's downright mind-boggling. If you can make it through this novel, you get a medal. Much is made of the fact that although finished in 1940 it wasn't published until 1967 - most attribute that to the whole criticism of Soviet Russian thing, but I say it's because it's nearly impossible to figure out what the hell is going on in this novel. But there is a very large, black, evil cat named Behemoth. He has a predilection for guns, sips on gasoline, and has a love of Dostoevsky. He symbolizes something. I have no idea what. If you know, fill me in.
MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. I'm putting this novel on the list because most folks have only ever seen the movie and do I really need to say it? The book is better than the movie, people. Still, the plot remains the same: Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse with four young mice children and the youngest, Timothy, is very, very ill. They must leave their home immediately because the humans have started their spring plowing, but Timothy is simply too ill to be moved. It is the rats of NIMH who come to the rescue to save Mrs. Frisby and her family from imminent death. I love this book because it isn't near as frightening for younger readers. Frankly, the movie scared the bejeesus out of me but the book is a gentler experience. It's a worthwhile read especially for those of you who enjoy reading out loud to your kidlets.
BONUS BOOK: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Because spiders who care about good spelling and grammar are just a little bit awesome. And so are snarky geese and rats.