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The Animal Family

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4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,232 ratings  ·  202 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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Average rating 4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,232 ratings  ·  202 reviews


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Wendy Darling
Jan 06, 2012 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
...more
Josh
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
20120811
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.
...more
Mir
May 01, 2011 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. ...more
Ben Loory
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
this right here is a perfect book. right here. perfect book.
Lea
Aug 16, 2011 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
...more
Cheryl
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-enjoy-again
Ok, this is the second time I've read this. I believe child me would have liked it. Now, I don't know what to think... it's like an elusive dream... it seems like just a series of anecdotes about how each new member of the family arrives and becomes integrated, but surely there's a deeper resonance that makes it worthy of a Newbery Honor.

Don't be put off by the page count. It's a small book, with huge margins, and can be read by an adult in one sitting.

I'd love to know what a family who reads it
...more
Kapila
Feb 28, 2010 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 d
...more
Karima
Jul 27, 2009 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
...more
Jean Fendick
Mar 07, 2008 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
...more
Adam
Dec 28, 2009 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
Rachel
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"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 are and s
...more
Luann
Jan 15, 2015 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.
Matthieu
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favourite stories dating back to my early childhood. The Sendak illustrations are beautiful. As sweet and pure as they come. Amazing.
Caroline
Jul 06, 2011 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.
Steve Ellerhoff
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
All the right elements for my tastes but this just didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm just not happy enough anymore for this kind of story to delight me. Sendak's illustrations, as always, are superb though. ...more
Kaylee
This is such a beautiful book! The descriptions of nature are sort of lyrical, lovely to read out loud. The conversations between the characters are also something special; I don't think there has ever been a group of connected individuals like the ones in this story, and so all of their interactions and conversations are something unique and wonderful.

I highly recommend it, especially for reading aloud to kids, but I think it's wonderful for all ages. And I have to add, the illustrations are a
...more
Sarah
Jan 08, 2012 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
autumnthing
Aug 20, 2007 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
Meredith
Aug 17, 2007 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." ...more
Ruthie
Nov 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
pure magic. very delicate.
Marie
Dec 30, 2007 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. ...more
Clay
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An old friend, one of my favorite children's books ever. ...more
Jennifer
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely beautiful.
Daniel Jr.
Feb 12, 2012 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. ...more
Stephen Curran
Sep 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Randall Jarrell was a poet as well as an author of children's books, a fact which is evident from the prose of THE ANIMAL FAMILY: not because the writing is in any way florid, but because it is perfectly controlled. Here's the first line:

"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."

The repetition, the punctuation : it isn't an accident. It is well-pr
...more
Lynette Caulkins
Overall, this is a cute and original story of different people coming together to form a close-knit family.

However, the blatant display of entitlement to disrupt others' lives for selfish gain really turned me off. You start off with a quaint, isolated protagonist in a coastal woodsy nook, who manages to capture the intrigue and devotion of an unusual mermaid. Fun start.

But then he comes back from a forray all excited and happy because he's killed a mother bear and absconded with her cub to keep
...more
Andrés Colón
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This had its moments, and overall I enjoyed the story arc that took place between each segment of the story. However there weren’t enough of those strong moments for me to give it a higher rating.
Mimi
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
According to the inscription inside, this book was given to me when I was three by my Godmother. A story that I remember hearing as I grew up, and reading again and again. Sadly, my kids never loved it, though I tried.
A recent recommendation for the Backlisted Podcast led me to their discussion and I was absorbed - a treasured book from my childhood! It was a good re-read and maybe I can entice my as-of-yet-unborn grandchildren.
...more
Deb Atwood
This is a re-visit for me. I still have the tattered copy I read in a college children's lit course eons ago, and I come back to it year after year. The writing in this book is beautiful and lyrical--no surprise since the author was a poet. Every page is prose poetry. Here is an example (because I can't do justice to the book by merely describing its beauty):

"When he sat at night by the logs blazing in the fireplace, the room looked half golden with firelight and half black with the shadow of th
...more
Sheralee
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
A beautiful fairytale
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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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