The purrfect winter reading list for anyone who loves animals

FELINE FICTION: There's a wonderful range of stories for cat lovers.
FELINE FICTION: There's a wonderful range of stories for cat lovers.

During these strangest of days, many people have discovered or rediscovered the simple pleasure of curling up with a good book.

And for animal lovers there is an absolute plethora of literature, so here's part one of a quick tour through just some of the literary gems which focus on our magnificent furred, feathered, finned and scaled friends.

Starting with the classics, there is no more-beloved teller of animal tales than James Herriot, who's real life persona Alf Wight, worked as a vet in Yorkshire for 50 years, and penned eight books about his experiences from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Herriot's appeal lies not only in his deep empathy for and understanding of his patients and their owners but in his engaging portraits of the many characters.

The first If Only They Could Talk was published in 1970 and was followed by It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1972), Let Sleeping Vets Lie (1973), Vet in Harness (1974), Vets Might Fly (1976), Vet in a Spin (1977), The Lord God Made Them All (1981) and Every Living Thing (1992). There are also compendiums, collected works and numerous television series based on the books.

Charlotte's Web by EB White became an instant favourite upon its release in 1952 and tells the tale of an unlikely friendship between a spider and a pig.

Without giving too much away, piglet Wilbur, the runt of the litter is headed for slaughter until he receives a last-minute reprieve and through the course of the book, his arachnid pal Charlotte plots on how to keep him alive.

It's a warm, rich narrative about hope and change.

Anna Sewell's Black Beauty is another stalwart of the genre.

Written in 1877, this book not only highlights the importance of animal welfare through Beauty's harrowing experiences in Victorian England, but also carries an underlying message of kindness, respect and sympathy.

This is made all the more powerful by the fact it is written from Beauty's point of view and is still one of the best-selling books of all time.

Watership Down is another seminal read which captured the hearts of animal lovers across the world with its cast of brave bunnies.

Author Richard Adams was among the first to develop a detailed anthropomorphic backstory with its own culture and society as the rabbits face many trials and tribulations in the search for a new home.

For the cat lovers again there is a literary feast. Top of the list has to be the Dalai Lama's Cat series by Australian writer David Michie.

Told from the perspective of His Holiness's Cat, these irreverent, engaging and inspiring books not only give us a peek into life in the holy man's inner sanctum but also offer us a path to happiness and meaning.

There's the Dalai Lama's Cat, The Art of Purring, The Dalai Lama's Catand the Power of Meow and the latest The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Four Pillars of Spiritual Success.

Other charmers are:

- Dewey by Vicki Myron recounting how a tiny ginger scrap of a kitten, found in a library return chute, grew up to become the hero of a town.

- The Cat That Came in From the Cold series, a hilarious take on living with cats by Deric Longden.

- The Warriors series where, much like Watership Down, Erin Hunter creates a rich and complex culture for a society of cats living in the wilds.

- Van Cat Meow documenting the journeys of Tasmanian traveller Richard East who after achieving the great Australian dream of house (and mortgage), great job and relationship, decided it wasn't for him.

So he sold everything and set off around the country with his cat Willow. This is his, and her, story.

- A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen which puts to rest any doubts about the redemptive power of animals. Former heroin addict James finds the stray Bob, or rather Bob finds him, changing both their lives forever.

Don't miss part II for more favourites and the best dog stories.