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The Animal Family

4.20  ·  Rating Details  ·  821 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
This is the story of how, one by one, a man found himself a family. Almost nowhere in fiction is there a stranger, dearer, or funnier family -- and the life that the members of The Animal Family live together, there in the wilderness beside the sea, is as extraordinary and as enchanting as the family itself.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published October 25th 1996 by HarperCollins (first published 1965)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,686)
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Wendy Darling
Jan 09, 2012 Wendy Darling rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: oliviasbooks
Recommended to Wendy Darling by: Ceridwen Tomato
What an exquisite little gem this book is. I have been bemoaning the lack of great mermaid stories far and wide, and though I've tried a great many, none have ever even touched on the surface of the enchantment and mystery that I'd hoped for until the gracious Ceridwen whispered in my ear about The Animal Family. This isn't really strictly a mermaid tale, however, it's really a deceptively simple but layered story of a family that is not born, but made.

Once upon a time, there was a hunter who l
Jun 28, 2015 Miriam rated it liked it
A hunter lives alone by the shore. Once he had parents, but they died, probably when he was quite young. Perhaps he has never had any other human contact, we aren't told; he seems to be familiar with some norms like "men don't wear necklaces" but he doesn't know what velvet is... this question isn't central, I just wonder given his loneliness why there's no question of looking for other people. Maybe he would have left eventually had he not met a mermaid.
Aug 11, 2012 Josh rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. I read it to E and L. At one point, I was (ahem) overcome by the story, and got a bit choked up. This made for a very confusing moment for E and L. She followed suit, but then to deal with the trauma of seeing his father cry at a children's story, E began to laugh. This became a preferable option to L as well. As long as I had trouble getting it together, they both laughed at me. Me crying, my children laughing at me -- standard parental operating procedure.
Sep 01, 2011 Lea rated it really liked it

This book is slow (in a good way), mellow and sweet. It reminds me very much of the tv series Little Bear. There isn't any great drama -- just a lovely story that explores the nature of "family", and the importance of having a family to belong to.

I found the mermaid in this story to be an especially wonderful character. She is happy all the time, accepting that life throws a few unexpected problems into the mix, and understanding that the best way of dealing with those problems is by working wi
Ben Loory
Jul 20, 2012 Ben Loory rated it it was amazing
this right here is a perfect book. right here. perfect book.
j. ergo
Jan 23, 2016 j. ergo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people
Recommended to j. ergo by: luck
this man was possibly capable of writing anything & writing it perfectly, & when i think about how he died, hit by a car (likely of his own design, maybe not) on a road i used to commute from chapel hill to durham daily, i am sometimes overcome to the point of tears. this is an amazing & beautiful book that is truly a fable being told for the first time, an original fairy tale set in an imaginary place, time & world, but created by a man in the twentieth century, something almost ...more
Jean Fendick
Mar 12, 2008 Jean Fendick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-s
I started reading this to Katie and Mia, but had to finish it myself after the first night. We are reading this at bedtime after a few picture books so Mia usually falls asleep or just lies in bed singing to herself. It is an enjoyable story about the creation of a very unusual family which begins when a lone hunter meets a mermaid. Katie is fascinated and giddy with both the oddness and familiarities in the story.

Does anyone have any suggestions for reading bedtime stories to different ages? Ge
Feb 28, 2010 Kapila rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, read-alouds
I came across this title in a recent edition of the HB magazine. It sat on my shelf at work, and then I brought it home, and it sat some more on top of the chest of drawers. And then I started reading it. First, in spurts -- but those short spurts were enough to want to make me continue. I found out a bit about the author, who was, not surprisingly from the lyrical quality of this book, an American poet - who translated both Chekov and Goethe. And it shows:

The hunter and the mermaid were so dif
Jul 27, 2009 Karima rated it it was amazing
My only regret about this book is that I didn't come across it sooner. Lucky the child (or adult) that has this book read to them! I am going to promptly purchase this for my granddaughter and any new little people that come my way.
Here is how the story is introduced:

"Say what you like, but such things do happen-not often, but they do happen."

Here is an excerpt in which the mermaid is explaining to the hunter the difference between living in the sea and living on land:

"Sometimes the sea is rough
Nov 30, 2014 Adam rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Children, Adults
Recommended to Adam by: John Cartan, Alex Hiatt
For the characters in Randall Jarrell's Animal Family, the world is a wondrous place, full of adventure and discoveries to be made, but also a familiar one, with all the comforts that implies. The world is new and thus nothing is surprising or shocking but everything is exceedingly fascinating. It should be needless to say that this is quite refreshing. It's a perspective we ought to take in our own lives, but which the conforming pressures of society and our own deeply entrenched habits of thou ...more
Dec 15, 2007 autumnthing rated it it was amazing
I acquired this book in the seventh grade when a teacher was clearing out some shelves. I have always adored this book; its simple but tender prose, and the delightful story it tells. It is so innocent and pleasant, yet never seems to lose touch with the gravity of loneliness, sorrow, and death. I recommend this book to everyone, especially those who, like me, cannot maintain much of an attention span for books. You will love the enchanting history of Jarrell's inspiring and unexpected "animal f ...more
Mar 17, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"That's what they called me. The one who lives with the animals."

My mother read this to me as a child & the memory of it has always been a warm light in my heart.

I finally decided read this on my own, as an adult. I was around four when my mom read it to me. It's so incredible to go back & re-read the books that carved us into who we are as people. And it's magical to think that after all these years, this story is almost exactly as I remembered it.

Books we love become part of who we a
Dec 14, 2015 Luann rated it it was amazing
What a sweet and interesting story! I expected more of an ending, but overall I really enjoyed this. I would have LOVED this as a child. My one question while I was reading is how did the mermaid get around so easily on land?

This was a Newbery Honor winner in 1966.
May 10, 2011 Meredith rated it it was amazing
Every once in a while, I pick this book up again so I can sink into its still and beautiful time-before-time. "Say what you like, but such things happen. Not often, but they do happen."
Dec 30, 2007 Marie rated it really liked it
Too sophisticated to be a children's book, to simple to be for adults. I don't know what to do with it, but I love this lyrical, unexpected, and poetic book.
Daniel Jr.
Feb 12, 2012 Daniel Jr. rated it it was amazing
I have just finished reading this book for the sixth or seventh time, and its power over me continues. It's simply gorgeous, an all-time favorite.
Oct 12, 2012 Caroline rated it it was amazing
I got this for Christmas when I was 9 years old and I still love to read it. Touching, lovely, timeless.
Jan 28, 2011 Clay rated it it was amazing
An old friend, one of my favorite children's books ever.
Nov 07, 2007 Ruthie rated it it was amazing
pure magic. very delicate.
Jan 08, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: work
This book is totally amazing and weird, and the pictures are beautiful. It's at a low enough reading level for most intermediate ESOL students, I would think, or intermediate ABE readers, and it has a clear story. There aren't a lot of big questions in it, society-wise, although one could talk quite a bit about what makes a family, and what it is to leave your home and go to another land with another totally different way of life, and what it's like to have a mixed marriage. It's also sort of a ...more
May 14, 2007 Melanie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Nostalgia-seekers
Shelves: alltimefavorites
I read this book when I was probably about 9 or 10, and I loved it. I picked it up again in a bookstore, and read it again to see if it was as good as my 10 year old self though it. Well it is, it's a simple story about a hunter who starts a family that consists of a mermaid, bear, lynx and finally an orphaned boy. Simple story about an unconventional family...Noticeably absent is any reference to the hunter and mermaid getting married. Also noticeably absent is any moral fretting about the fact ...more
May 22, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
Just your typical hunter finds mermaid story-who then find a bear and a lynx and so on and so forth. Very nice to read aloud.
Apr 02, 2012 Anne rated it really liked it
Shelves: youth-mg-ya
I picked up this dusty book at a used bookshop, drawn to the lilies on the cover more than anything else. Then when I saw it was illustrated by Maurice Sendak, I was sold.
What an amazing find. This story is so beautifully written, and in such a simple way, yet entirely unique. There really is no plot to this book beyond hunter meets mermaid meets bear meets lynx, finds kid. But it doesn't need one, the writing just carries you through this dream of sunlit meadows and shadowy forests, of dark fo
In gentle, coaxing tones, Mr. Jarrell invites the reader to believe in an impossible family. How this extraordinary family comes together, how they stay together in spite of obvious difficulties (you wonder how a full-grown bear can continue to come into a house and sit by the table), you are made to believe in the presence of a mermaid, a lonely hunter and the beings they gradually acquire around them who live in the harmony of their home. When an orphaned boy is added to the mix, his presence ...more
Nov 19, 2008 Faith rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves a good story
Recommended to Faith by: my dad
Shelves: timeless
Even though this book is very simple, it's wonderful for just that reason. The characters don't have names- they're just "The Hunter, The Mermaid, The Lynx, The Boy, and The Bear"- but to me they had such great personality they didn't need names. It's very short, with about five sentences a page, but the artwork and sweet story make up for it completely. Even though it is a story about a couple who ends up together and has an adopted family, it's more about love than romance.
Sophie Gray
Apr 30, 2014 Sophie Gray added it
Shelves: animals
This book is about a group of different animals and species that come together and move in together. Each of the characters are unique from one another as they are from a different part of the animal kingdom or a completely different species. While they bond together, they create a bond and begin to accept and adapt from one another. The meaning behind the book is to show the significance of friendship along with equality between each of the characters. This was a book that I enjoyed reading; lo ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Michelle rated it it was amazing
I read this multiple times as a child and still love reading it as an adult. I found it while browsing the school library in elementary school. I love that it's about different kinds of creatures that all get along as a family. It taught me about embracing differences, although I didn't realize it as I was reading it the first time. Back then it was just a charming story. Now... well, it's still a charming story.
Jan 03, 2008 J rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book meant so much to me as a child. I found it packed away in a box of old favorites and wondered if my own children would sit still for it. With Harry Potter and friends for entertainment, I really didn't believe they would. It's a quiet story. I lined them up on the sofa anyway and began to read. They were mesmerized. They went unwillingly off to bed, begging for more, every night for a week. Beautiful.
Excellent. A lonely hunter gets himself, first, a most unusual wife out of the ocean and, second, a truly unique family out of the forest. Lovely writing, and a prefect book for reading aloud. Jarrell has real talent for evoking wonder and describing with great vividness the behavior of animals. This 1965 novel is a forgotten classic and worthy of being reprinted in, say, the NYRB-Kids line.
May 29, 2014 Jill rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery-honor
Odd little book. A love story about an unlikely couple, a hunter and a mermaid, and the animals and boy they adopt. Maurice Sendak (illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are) did pictures for it. Seems from reading other reviews people just love this book. It was charming, yes, well written, yes. I guess it's just not my style. I would read it to a child if I found it on a shelf but I wouldn't run out and buy a copy.

“The days went by for him, all different and all the same. The boy was happy, and
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Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) wrote eight books of poetry, five anthologies, four children’s books illustrated by Maurice Sendak, four translations, including Faust: Part I and The Three Sisters (performed on Broadway by the Actor’s Studio), and a novel, Pictures from an Institution. He received the National Book Award for poetry in 1960, served as poet laureate at the Library of Congress in 1957 an ...more
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“The days went by for him, all different and all the same. The boy was happy, and yet he didn't know that he was happy, exactly: he couldn't remember having been unhappy. If one day as he played at the edge of the forest some talking bird had flown down and asked him: "Do you like your life" he would not have known what to say, but would have asked the bird: "Can you not like it?” 3 likes
“One day is one wave, and the next day the next, for the sea people―and whether they're glad or whether they're sorry, the sea washes it away. When my sister died, the next day I'd forgotten and was happy. But if you died, if he died, my heart would break.

When it storms for the people, no matter how terribly it storms, the storm isn't real―swim down a few strokes and it's calm there, down there it's always calm. And death is not different, if it's someone else who dies. We say. 'Swim away from it'; we swim away from everything.

But on land it's different. The storm's real here, and the red leaves, and the branches when they're bare all winter. It all changes and never stops changing, and I'm here with nowhere to swim to, no way ever to leave it or forget it. No, the land's better! The land's better!”
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