Book: My Family and Other Animals

Thanks to Laura H., who left a comment on my blog about a year ago recommending Gerald Durrell’s books, I have a new favorite book…or books. (I am planning to read all of Durrell’s books as soon as I can get my hands on them.)

My Family and Other Animals combines my two favorite things: nature and good storytelling. In this book (and its sequels), Durrell writes about an idyllic time he spent with his family on the island of Corfu, off the coast of Greece, during the late 1930s when he was about ten years old. He was a budding naturalist, and on this island, he had the freedom to roam on his own and spend hours watching and studying the insects, birds and other animals he found. He collected dozens of specimens, much to the bewilderment and sometimes horror of his family, but somehow they put up with his little zoo. Actually, I think it was his mother who was the champion and allowed him the freedom and space to keep his animals.

Reading his long passages about the wildlife on Corfu was enough to make me fall in love with this book, but that is just icing on the cake. He also writes about each of his family members, who were quirky and moody, and it all adds up to one hilarious book. Whether or not you enjoy reading nature books, you’ll probably enjoy this memoir of a boy’s candid memories of his family, who make every other family appear normal. Durrell’s memories are those of a clear-headed, thoughtful, and innocent ten-year-old child, yet he writes in a beautiful prose that only an adult could master.

I have read the second book in his trilogy, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and it’s more of the same — delightful and funny. I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on the third book, Garden of the Gods, or as it’s been renamed, Fauna and FamilyIf you haven’t read any of the books yet, however, you may just want to buy the Corfu Trilogy, which combines all three books.

In the first two books, and probably others, you may be a little shocked to read how Durrell trapped and kept his animals, and though he didn’t mean to hurt them, sometimes they would die. This was actually a common practice among naturalists and researchers in the past, but it’s not common practice anymore. However, it’s because of Durrell’s love of nature and his great efforts to study animals up close as a child that he became a beloved naturalist, conservationist, zookeeper, and spokesperon as an adult. He created the Durrell Wildlife Park and Durrell Wildlife Conversation Trust, which tirelessly works to help animals who are at risk for going extinct.

The other book that Laura recommended to me is Durrell’s The Amateur NaturalistIt’s more of a field guide for naturalists, or in some ways, it’s a naturalist’s memoir of different habitats. (Minus the funny parts about his family.) It’s a beautiful book, and I keep it by my bed when I need a little nature in my nighttime reading. I’ll write about it someday too.

All of these books I plan to give to my son to read when he’s a little older. Right now, I think some of the British humor would go over his head, and he probably would not have the patience to read The Amateur Naturalist. But these books will always be on my bookshelf, and they will always be on my “highly recommended” book list.

Have you read any of Durrell’s books? What is your favorite?

5 thoughts on “Book: My Family and Other Animals

    1. Hi Marigold. I remember I loved that book and the two sequels too. When I read it, however, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t recommend my son reading it until he gets into high school. There were two reasons for this. First, the author was British, and there’s some British humor and/or sensibilities that I thought might go over my son’s head. Second, these books were written in a different era. There are a few things in them that we would not consider appropriate now. I would want him to be old enough to understand that. It also depends on the sensitivity of your child. Gerald Durrell lived at a time when it was common for naturalists to kill or trap specimens to study them. (Later in life he becomes a conservationist.) His brother was very fond of guns and hunting, so it would also depend on your tolerance for guns. In one of the later books, I remember a scene when I thought the sister did something kind of cruel too. Again, the books were written at a very different time, and these issues are minor, but it just depends on how you feel about it. I highly recommend them for adults, especially those who love nature. The first one is the best, and it’s very funny. You might just want to read it first yourself before letting your child read it. I hope that helps!

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      1. Thanks, this is very thorough insight. We have a museum of science and history near us, and much of their collection started in the same way. So we definitely have bridges those topics before about what standards were and what they strove to be today.

        His grandfather let him take a coon trap hime.over the weekend and to our surprise caught a young coon last night in the city. Thankfully his excitement of success was tempered by his emotional awareness of how scared and defeated the coon looked. We released it, and had lots of meaningful topics about it today.
        For this reason our literary minded friend pointed us towards the trilogy.

        Our Waldorf leanings teach us that reading stories allows kids to envision and imagine what their mind is ready for versus watching a show that details everything in length. We may go ahead and go with it now and see how far it takes us. Even if he doesnt catch everything I think perhaps it will lean into good discussions.

        Thanks again!

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      2. If you read it with him, I think it will be fine! When I recommend books, I try to be aware of what people can be sensitive about, but it sounds like you will really enjoy it.

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