Gerald Durrell has written several picture books for children, from board books to illustrated stories. They all draw heavily on his experiences with animals and childhood, and are basically more child friendly versions of his autobiographical anecdotes. Like his other books, there’s either a young boy, a young man or a jovial, elderly uncle-type figure that is basically Gerry himself. They are generally well illustrated, in pictorial, charming, watercolours of animals and scenery.
I suspect his books are not appropriate for all children, as he tends to write in a fairly literary style, not really toning down his language from his adult books. Basically, they can be boring. But the right child – one with a reasonably high reading level, and a high interest in nature – will love them. I can guarantee this. My whole family, including my younger siblings and I, grew up reading his books, and collecting them at every book sale. I ran out by the time I was twelve.
- If you’re looking for something for older readers, he also wrote some fiction novels for children and teens.
- Note: Gerald Durrell was most popular in the UK, though his books are increasingly being republished worldwide. Most of his children’s books are collectors items overseas, so it may be worth buying directly from Amazon.co.uk.
Books For Older Children
Suitable for 7-11 year olds: The Fantastic… Adventure series.
The Fantastic Flying Journey (Conran Octopus, 1987)
When an enormous hot air balloon house lands in the Dollybut back garden and produces the astonishing Great-Uncle Lancelot, the three children are amazed. They’re even more amazed by the round the world journey he takes them on, in a quest for his missing brother – and the many fascinating creatures they meet along the way.
The Fantastic Flying Journey was a childhood favourite of mine, and has been republished with at least three different covers! The full page illustrations are gorgeous, though I was always a little confused as to whether it was a novel or a picture book. It was more of an illustrated novel. I have never seen the time travelling sequel, The Fantastic Dinosaur Adventure, but it was also illustrated by Graham Percy.
UK Link: The Fantastic Flying Journey
The Fantastic Dinosaur Adventure (Conran Octopus, 1989)
The sequel to The Fantastic Flying Journey, the children travel back in time to learn about the dinosaurs. That’s… basically it, it’s the same illustrator and format as the first book. Think Magic School Bus, with fewer kids, and a jollier (if still eccentric) adult.
UK Link: The Fantastic Dinosaur Adventure
Books For Younger Readers
Keeper and Toby the Tortoise are both preschool level, and were less successful. While the illustrations are, again, lovely, Gerald Durrell’s informational writing style doesn’t translate into children’s books very well. He also wrote a series of board books called Puppy Tales, which did work very well (probably because they had to be simplified down so much – he told a good story, he just tended to get lost in the details!)
Keeper (Michael O’Mara Books, 1990)
A fairly simple story about a dog who lives in a zoo and goes around visiting the animals, learning about them.
UK Links: Keeper
Toby the Tortoise (Michael O’Mara Books, 1991)
Obviously based on his childhood in Corfu, this is the story of a boy and his animals who rescues a tortoise from the ocean. The tortoise turns out to talk and sets of on a quest to find himself a wife.
UK Links: Toby the Tortoise
The Puppy Tales Picture Books (Andrex, 1993)
Puppy Tales: A limited series of board books illustrated by Cliff Wright (who later illustrated the UK versions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). They were part of a promotional campaign by Andrex toilet tissue (involving collecting coupons). The stories are sweet, well written and suitable for 6-8 year olds.
Puppy goes to the beach with his owners, meeting a crab, a seagull and a little terrier that he saves from drowning.
Puppy goes to the zoo and meets a range of exotic creatures.
UK Link: Puppy’s Wild Time
UK Link: Puppy’s Field Day
Puppy is taken to school for Pet Day, meets a friendly Pekinese and a bullying Bulldog, and has to help rescue the lambs, goats and pigs.