• Paperback Snob

My Big Five: Favourite Animal Stories from author Debbie Thomas for the Chameleon Dad blog tour

Hi there, Debbie here with huge thanks to Ciara for hosting this post. I’d love to share some thoughts, themes and book recommendations connected to my new book. Chameleon Dad. (age 9+) is the story of twelve-year-old Connie, the foster daughter of a cleaner at Dublin Airport. When a letter appears from the dad she thought was dead, Connie vows to discover why he left her eight years ago, sitting in a café at the airport with a chameleon in a box. With the help of her pet chameleon Hue and a fossil-hunting boy called Thyo (short for Ichthyosaurus) she tracks her dad down. But as he reveals his true colours, Connie begins to wonder if she’s made the biggest mistake of her life.

Chameleon Dad is about a lot of things: how the memory can play tricks; how easy it is to misjudge people without knowing their stories; how to dig up a dinosaur – and, of course, it’s about chameleons. Those snooty, hilarious creatures have all sorts of tricks up their multicoloured sleeves. There’s the colour-changing, obviously. But less obviously, I learned that it depends on mood rather than camouflage. Chameleons go bright when they’re angry or showing off, and dull when they’re stressed (which the fussy little fellows often are). For all his quirks and grumpiness, Hue is a true hero. And he’s got me thinking about other animals in children’s books. Here are five (and a bit) of my favourites, in no particular order:

1. One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

Shy, lonely Hal is thrilled to get a dog for his tenth birthday. But he doesn’t realise that his parents have only rented Fleck for the weekend from a dodgy pet agency. Discovering that Fleck must be returned, Hal runs away. This final book by one of my favourite authors glitters with her characteristic wit, warmth and whimsy. The love between Hal and Fleck is joyful and moving but never sentimental. While it celebrates all things dog, it inspired me to love people better too.

2. An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

This amazing tale draws on true stories of zookeepers who saved animals during the Second World War. Elizabeth, Karli and their mother flee the bombed city of Dresden with Marlene, an orphaned elephant. Along the way, Marlene helps to build trust and community between refugees who don’t know who is on their side. Told from the point of view of the German refugees, the story challenges the idea of ‘the enemy’ in war.

3. Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin

This wonderful book weaves fantasy into historical fact. Syms the cabin boy becomes the assistant of Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle. In 1835 they reach the Galapagos Islands where a storm separates Syms from the boat. Shipwrecked on a volcanic island, he encounters a fantastic – and fantastical – creature. It’s no surprise to read that Lindsay Galvin teaches science; she sprinkles the story with fascinating snippets about the finches, tortoises and scalier creatures that led Darwin towards his theory and book On the Origin of Species. And I challenge anyone not to fall in love with Farthing, Basalt, Quartz and their magnificent, terrifying mother.

4. Flora and Ulysses by Kate Di Camillo

In this Newbery medal winner, Ulysses the squirrel gains superbrains and super strength after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Smart, quirky Flora learns to trust again after her parents’ divorce, and even smarter and quirkier Ulysses learns to write poetry.

5. (and a bit)

These books aren’t primarily about animals but have some wonderful furry, scaly and unborn characters. In the beautiful Snakes’ Elbows by Deirdre Madden super-smart cat Dandelion and surprisingly gentle guard dogs, Bruiser and Cannibal, save the day by communicating through their thoughts. The yellow-spotted lizards in Holes by Louis Sachar are just an excuse to mention one of my favourite books. And in The Ogre of Oglefort, Eva Ibbotson plays a blinder with Clarence the egg. Right at the end, Clarence begins to crack – but we’re never told who, or what, comes out.

Thanks so much to Debbie for visiting the blog and recommending such fabulous books! We're huge fans of Darwin's Dragons, Holes and all the authors mentioned but haven't read any of the other books listed here - will have to get hold of them. I wasn't aware that Deirdre Madden wrote for children either (Molly Fox's Birthday is one of my favourite books!). Have learned a lot from Debbie's top five - thanks again, Debbie! We'll be sharing a review of Chameleon Dad. soon and in the meantime, visit all the below tour stops via Twitter to learn more about Debbie and her wonderful new book. You can also find Chameleon Dad on the Little Island website and everywhere books are sold.