Got time to talk with the animals?
Whether it's with your beloved cat or dog or with a more exotic species - such as a dolphin or a chimpanzee - who hasn't wished that they could sit down and have a good long talk, speaking a common language?
If we really could hear and understand what our fellow creatures had to say, would we get more than an earful? How much would it expand our experience of the world we live in?
In the worlds of fiction and nonfiction, this long-held desire for animal-human communication is continually being explored.
Two recent documentary movies, 'Buck' - about a renowned and currently practicing 'horse-whisperer' cowboy - and 'Project Nim' - the story of Nim Chimpsky, an ape who was the subject of the famous language project at Columbia University in the early '70s, are just two examples of the real-life fascination this idea holds.
The film, 'Buck', the book, 'Believe: A Horseman's Journey' (Buck Brannaman, 2004) and 'Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human' (Elizabeth Hess, 2008), are part of your Multnomah County Library's collection.
Here's a selection of other books, both fanciful and factual, for adults, teens and children, that will give you even more to talk about - with conversationalists of your own and other species.
'Unsaid: A Novel' by Neil Abramson. A current bestselling surprise, this novel is told from the afterlife by veterinarian Helena Colden, and brings together dogs AND chimpanzees in a moving and intriguing story. Her grief-stricken husband David becomes involved in a court case to save the life of a chimpanzee who may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of animals' consciousness.
'Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas' by Denise L. Herzing. In the tradition of Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, but in this case with a pod of spotted dolphins, Dr. Denise Herzing recounts her research and surprising findings on wild dolphin behavior, interaction, and communication. Readers will be drawn into the highs and lows - the births and deaths, the discovery of unique and personalized behaviors, the threats dolphins face from environmental changes, and the many funny and wonderful encounters Denise painstakingly documented over 30 years.
'The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore' by Benjamin Hale. Bruno Littlemore is quite unlike any chimpanzee in the world. Precocious, self-conscious, and preternaturally gifted, young Bruno - born and raised in a habitat at the local zoo - falls under the care of a university primatologist named Lydia Littlemore. His untimely outbursts ultimately cost Lydia her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road in what proves to be one of the most unforgettable journeys - and most affecting love stories - in recent literature.
'Dog Talk: Lessons Learned from a Life with Dogs' by Harrison Forbes with Beth Adelman. Harrison Forbes, host of syndicated radio show 'Dog Talk', chronicles his life with dogs and his experience training police dogs, and presents insights into dog psychology and behavior gained from years of transforming challenging and damaged dogs into treasured companions and valuable working dogs.
'Animals in Spirit: Our Faithful Companions' Transition to the Afterlife' by Penelope Smith. Those who live with and love animals dread the moment when their beloved companions will leave them. Smith, an animal communicator for more than 30 years, and author of two books on talking with other species, provides a unique and detailed account, from the animals' perspective, on the ways they transition from the physical to the spiritual realm. Readers open to Smith's claims about animal communication, or who grieve departed non-human friends, will find much in these pages to offer comfort and hope.
'Koko: A Talking Gorilla' by a film by Barbet Schroeder. In this groundbreaking documentary from 1978, Koko, a six-year-old gorilla, is the subject of a controversial research project conducted by Penny Patterson. A perceptive simian who communicated with humans via sign language, Koko knew more than 300 signs, and combined them to make new hybrid descriptions. Director Schroeder and acclaimed cinematographer Victor Almendros explore the contradictions that arise when scientific experiments are used to graph human behavior onto animals.
'Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence -- and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process' by Irene M. Pepperberg. This story of Alex, the famous African Grey parrot, documents his 30-year relationship with his trainer and the ways in which his life has changed scientific understanding about language and thought.
And here are some titles on the same subject for teens:
'Half Brother' by Kenneth Oppel. In 1973, when a renowned Canadian behavioral psychologist pursues his latest research project - an experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills - he brings home a baby chimp named Zan and asks his thirteen-year-old son to treat Zan like a little brother.
'The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book 1' by Patrick Ness. Chased by a madman preacher and possibly the rest of his townsfolk as well, young Todd Hewitt flees his settlement on a planet where war with the natives has killed all the women and infected the men with a germ that broadcasts their thoughts aloud for all to hear. Narrated with crack dramatic and comic timing and featuring one of the finest talking-dog characters anywhere, this troubling, unforgettable opener to the Chaos Walking trilogy is a penetrating look at what it takes to become a man in a society gone horribly wrong.
'Darkwood' by M.E. Breen. Darkness falls so quickly in Howland that the people there have no word for 'evening'. But for thirteen-year-old Annie, the dark is almost soothing compared to the misery of her cruel aunt and uncle's house. When Annie finally escapes, she finds herself on a journey that will take her deep into the forest - where fearsome creatures lurk - and to the glittering halls of a palace. Hints of the Brothers Grimm add magic to this spellbinding and beautifully told story.
And some titles for kids:
'Little Beauty' by Cosita Linda and Anthony Browne; 'The Secret of the Sirens: Companions Quartet; bk. 1' by Julia Golding; 'What Did One Elephant Say to the Other? A Book About Communication' by Becky Baines; 'Elissa's Quest' by Erica Verrillo; and 'How to Speak Cat!' by Sarah Whitehead.
Look for them all at your local branch of the Multnomah County Library!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: A couple of other current titles on this subject that animal-loving dogs and teens should find compelling are 'A Dog's Purpose', a novel by W. Bruce Cameron, and 'Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know' by Alexandra Horowitz. And for talking animals, our own pick as the best movie ever made is the Disney/Pixar animation 'Bolt' - a funny satire enjoyable by adult and youth alike, each at their own levels, and with a subtext about deception among humans and in all nature that is deeply profound. Someone will write a Masters thesis about this movie someday. And it has the very best animation we have ever seen, too.]