Creature Feature | Mechanics' Institute

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Creature Feature

James Alfred Wight, better known as James Herriot, began writing the first of four books about his years as a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, during the Great Depression. After a long day of travel to remote farms caring for livestock in distress, Herriot sat down to type rough drafts of stories on an Olivetti typewriter.

Several years later, in 1972, Herriot published All Creatures Great and Small, followed by All Things Bright and Beautiful in 1974, All Things Wise and Wonderful in 1977, and The Lord God Made Them All in 1981. His warm-hearted stories, which he began writing at age 50, follow his rural veterinary practice in the Yorkshire Dales during the 1930s, service in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and finally, his return to post-war life in the fictional town of Darrowby.

All Creatures Great and Small was adapted into a 1975 film and a 1978 TV series that ran for nine years. In January of 2021, an updated TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, the first title in Herriot's 1972 series began airing on PBS Masterpiece. While many have fond memories of watching the first series by the same name, the new series is equally as delightful with its breathtaking scenery, strong cast and clever writing. The series has been renewed for a second season.

This enduring popularity has elevated Herriot's stories to modern-day classics. If you've wondered where the titles of his books originated, Herriot borrowed lines from the chorus of the Anglican hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Frances. Because the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons frowned on members who advertised, Herriot's pen name was taken from a British soccer player of the era.

If you've already binge-watched All Creatures on Masterpiece and devoured Herriot's books, you may enjoy this list of heartwarming stories about our animal friends. All of these titles are available through the library's To Go service. 

Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg - A memoir of the author's 30-year study of Alex, an African gray parrot and her groundbreaking work on non-human communication. Alex has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist and Nature as well as radio and TV for his ability to name more than a hundred objects and understand the concept of categories. 

Awakening by Sharon Bolton - In a quiet English village, veterinary surgeon Clara Benning is called into a murder investigation, the victim killed by a deadly Australian snake. As it becomes clear that someone is using reptiles as weapons of destruction, Dr. Benning is determined to find out the culprit. 

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun - The first in a series of 29 mystery novels about reporter Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cat Koko. Qwilleran's unusual pet develops a sixth sense, which manifests in his actions and behavior, a skill that proves critical in solving crimes. 

Dewey's Nine Lives: the legacy of a small-town library cat who inspired millions by Vicki Myron - A public librarian's memoir and charming tales of Dewey, a beloved cat who began his library career stuffed into a library book return in Spencer, Iowa. Each time, Dewey always seemed to gravitate toward those who needed him most. 

Dog Days: dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz - This eAudiobook read by actor Tim Stechshulte presents Katz's winning writing style so sincerely that you can't help but fall in love with all his canines -- many of them rescue animals -- living on his upstate New York farm. 

The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith - The author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series serves up a gentle tale of hope and friendship during World War II in which a British farm girl, an American pilot and a German soldier are brought together by an unlikely hero -- a border collie. Also available as a downloadable audiobook

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey - Although Fossey's work ended tragically in her murder, this book remains one of the most important studies in helping humans understand the enigmatic mountain gorillas. Her personal story is an unforgettable portrait of one of our closest primate relatives. 

James Herriot's Cat Stories by James Herriot - In addition to his All Creatures series, Herriot also wrote several children's books and animal stories for adults. This one features stories about the cats he has known. A companion book, James Herriot's Dog Stories presents a collection of touching and memorable stories about the dogs as well, including Tricki Woo. 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel - An unconventional coming-of-age story about a zookeeper's son who becomes trapped in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Martel's 2001 novel was adapted into a film by the same name that won four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Ang Lee in 2012. 

Molly: the true story of the amazing dog who rescues cats by Colin Butcher - Retired police officer and private investigator Colin Butcher specializes in helping people find their missing pets. Butcher tells an amazing story of how he built an investigative business with Molly, an unruly but intelligent cocker spaniel, as his expert tracker. 

My Gentle Barn by Ellie Laks - Located in Santa Clarita, Calif., the Gentle Barn is haven for rescued farm animals facing euthanasia, disease and neglect. This miraculous story about how the author overcame severe financial setbacks and other obstacles to establish a pet rescue facility that teaches special needs children how to care for and respect animals. 

Until Tuesday: a wounded warrior and the golden retriever who saved him by Luis Carlos Montalvan - Suffering from PTSD and other physical disabilities, Captain Montalvan returned home from a second tour of duty in Iraq having survived stab wounds, a brain injury and three broken vertebrae. The pressures of civilian life were unmanageable until he met his best friend, Molly, a service dog who sustains and protects him on a daily basis. 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Also available as an eBook. During the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski, a young veterinary student, jumps a train carrying a second-rate circus struggling to survive, making one-night stands in town after endless town. Jacob is put in charge of the circus menagerie, where he must find a way to help mistreated animals' lives more bearable.

Posted on Jan. 28, 2021 by Celeste Steward