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Featured Creatures: Animals in Our Lives
Award-winning author Lalita Gandbhir reflects on a lifetime with animals — from the dog she grew up with in India, who bit people for no reason, to the menagerie of creatures (from cats and dogs to a squirrel and a snake) that her animal-crazy husband and children brought into her household through the years. She also offers keen observations on animals she’s encountered in the natural world, from elephants in Africa to eagles and moose in Alaska to the everyday creatures that have made their homes in and around her house and yard in Massachusetts. In thoughtful and sometimes amusing essays, she offers insight into a lifetime’s worth of human-animal interactions, and how in some ways we humans and the animals we live among are not so different.
Rich depictions of habitats and the creatures that occupy them are brought to life in this celebration of animal life from Gandbhir (author For Homeland: A Sikh Refugee Story). Raised in cities, Gandbhir never saw the appeal of pets, but she married a man whose “childhood adventures involving his animals are family legends,” and with each of their children “pets paraded into our lives.” Now a grandmother, Gandbhir acknowledges that “even the ones I resisted …have made my life colorful and interesting” as she invites readers into these brief, touching stories about getting acquainted with animals. Aside from her eventual, heartening love of creatures great and small, Gandbhir’s descriptions and research about animals and their environments—like Alaska’s Potter Marsh, where she sees bald eagles, moose, Beluga whales, and more—prove impressive and engaging.

Split between accounts of wildlife and family pets, Featured Creatures ranges from Arctic to tropics to the savannahs of Tanzania, introducing baboons, wildebeest, tortoises, and a wounded loon. Gandbhir focuses on animal habits and puts herself in their position when it comes to feeding, travel, and many other daily activities, and she touchingly intertwines her children and husband’s experiences in each chapter. Her eventual surrender to the needs of the creatures entering “her space” is charming, a series of milestones of interspecies empathy: “Many spiders weaved their webs on our porch poles again,” she writes, “but the cute spider with the red dot never reappeared. After that, I stopped sweeping the spiderwebs.”

The high importance animals play in the lives of children shines through, especially in chapters about pets, whose personalities and quirks move her. She writes with welcome candor about hard decisions that her children still are upset over, such as giving away some cats, and she describes her journey toward allowing pets into her home with warmth and humor. Throughout she reminds us that the impact animals make in our lives cannot be measured—and neither can our responsibility toward them.

Takeaway: Touching stories of pets and wildlife from a reluctant animal lover.

Comparable Titles: Sy Montgomery’s How to Be A Good Creature, Nick Trout’s Ever By My Side.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A