The best books where animals help us understand ourselves

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a freelance journalist who started writing about animals after getting and falling in love with a flock of chickens. Animals are fascinating in their own right but the way we talk about them, and our relationships, shine a fascinating light on humans and what we value. My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Country Living, and many others. 


I wrote...

Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them

By Tove Danovich,

Book cover of Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them

What is my book about?

When journalist Tove Danovich arrived at the post office to pick up her first flock of chicks, she didn’t expect the birds inside that cardboard box to change her life. But within months, the chicks went from hiding under the heat plate to singing egg songs in her backyard coop. They also made her wonder—what was a good life for a chicken anyway? 

From a hatchery in Iowa to a poultry show in Ohio to a chicken training camp in Washington, Danovich went in search of the people breeding, training, healing, and advocating for chickens. Woven with delightful and sometimes heartbreaking anecdotes from Danovich’s own henhouse, Under the Henfluence proves that chickens are so much more than what they bring to the table. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship

Tove Danovich Why did I love this book?

Catherine Raven is a loner. To keep her distance from others, the author buys a cabin on a remote stretch of land in Montana. Then she starts getting visits from a fox.

This absolute dream of a book catalogues Raven’s friendship with the fox and what you can learn from hours spent in another being’s presence. One of the best animal books I’ve ever read. You’ll savor every page.

By Catherine Raven,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fox and I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Instant New York Times Bestseller

Winner of the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award * 2022 Nautilus Book Awards Gold Winner * Shortlisted for the John Burroughs Medal * Finalist for the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize * Shortlisted for a Reading the West Book Award

A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year * 2021 Summer Reading Pick by BUZZFEED * NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW * KIRKUS * TIME MAGAZINE * GOOD MORNING AMERICA * PEOPLE MAGAZINE * THE WASHINGTON POST

“The book everyone will be talking about … full of tenderness and understanding.”―The New York…


Book cover of Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

Tove Danovich Why did I love this book?

Researchers don’t know much about barn owls so Stacey O’Brien, a biologist, and owl researcher, takes on the chance to raise one as a research assignment. Wesley quickly becomes so much more than that.

This memoir opens the door on owl intelligence and behavior while including unforgettable details like that baby barn owls smell “like maple syrup.” You’ll love the friendship between Wesley and his human.

A book that’s over far too quickly. 

By Stacey O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wesley the Owl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On Valentine’s Day 1985, biologist Stacey O’Brien adopted Wesley, a baby barn owl with an injured wing who could not have survived in the wild. Over the next nineteen years, O’Brien studied Wesley’s strange habits with both a tender heart and a scientist’s eye—and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl’s lifetime). She watched him turn from a helpless fluff ball into an avid com­municator with whom she developed a language all their own. Eventually he became a gorgeous, gold-and-white macho adult with a heart-shaped face who preened in the…


Book cover of The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood

Tove Danovich Why did I love this book?

Sometimes it takes a pig to introduce us to our fellow humans.

In this delightful book, nature writer Sy Montgomery sticks close to home following the story of Christopher Hogwood, a runty piglet who grows into 750 pounds and a neighborhood favorite. You may not want a pig as a pet after reading but you will fall in love with the pig mind and the way animals can bring us together.

By Sy Montgomery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Good Pig as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In loving yet unsentimental prose, Sy Montgomery captures the richness that animals bring to the human experience. Sometimes it takes a too-smart-for-his-own-good pig to open our eyes to what most matters in life.”
—John Grogan, author of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog

A naturalist who spent months at a time living on her own among wild creatures in remote jungles, Sy Montgomery had always felt more comfortable with animals than with people. So she gladly opened her heart to a sick piglet who had been crowded away from nourishing meals by his stronger siblings.…


Book cover of Mozart's Starling

Tove Danovich Why did I love this book?

Starlings are everywhere and yet I hadn’t properly seen them until I picked up this book.

The author combines the history of our relationship with the starling, a reviled bird that is nevertheless so much like us, with an up-close view of the species through a pet starling named Carmen. This book will leave you enchanted by the chatty birds. 

By Lyanda Lynn Haupt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mozart's Starling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On May 27th, 1784, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart met a flirtatious little starling who sang (an improved version of!) the theme from his Piano Concerto Number 17 in G to him. Knowing a kindred spirit when he met one, Mozart wrote "That was wonderful" in his journal and took the bird home to be his pet. For three years Mozart and his family enjoyed the uniquely delightful company of the starling until one April morning when the bird passed away.

In 2013, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet, rescued her own starling, Carmen, who has become a part of her…


Book cover of The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People

Tove Danovich Why did I love this book?

There are plenty of books out there about good dogs but not so many about a category I hold dear to my heart, the good bad dog. (I have one of my own.)

I read this entire book in one sitting at my uncomfortable dining table, underlining as I went. It’s beautifully written and Speck, the dog, as well as the author and his human family come alive on the page.

Sometimes the dogs that don’t do what we ask them to are exactly the dogs we need. 

By Rick Bragg,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Speckled Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All Over but the Shoutin', the warmhearted and hilarious story of how his life was transformed by his love for a poorly behaved, half-blind stray dog.

Speck is not a good boy. He is a terrible boy, a defiant, self-destructive, often malodorous boy, a grave robber and screen door moocher who spends his days playing chicken with the Fed Ex man, picking fights with thousand-pound livestock, and rolling in donkey manure, and his nights howling at the moon. He has been that way since the moment he…


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A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

Book cover of A Beggar's Bargain

Jan Sikes Author Of The Edge of Too Late

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Avid reader Lover of Music Astral Traveler Tarot Reader Grandmother

Jan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Historical Fiction Post WW2.

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger. If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

What is this book about?

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father's dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time-a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an…


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