The Story of Dr. Doolittle by Lofting is a delightful classic children's tale which I've been enjoying as a read aloud with my 8yo boy. As the story begins, Dr. Doolittle is a regular doctor in a small town who happens to have a fondness for animals and several pets; however, as the number and variety of his pets increases, he begins to lose patients and becomes very poor. His parrot Polynesia teaches him to understand animal languages, and he becomes a very successful veterinarian for awhile until his pet crocodile scares off his new clients. Just as the money is about to run out, a sparrow arrives with an urgent message from the monkeys in Africa who are suffering from an epidemic and dying in large numbers. The good doctor immediately borrows a boat and some provisions and embarks on a voyage to Africa. Along the way he encounters difficulties with an African tribe whose land he must cross, a group of Barbary pirates whose swift boat threatens to overtake him, and a young boy whose uncle is lost at sea. Always with each difficulty, he turns to the animals nearby for assistance, which they gladly give.
I would certainly recommend this as a read aloud for an elementary aged student. For independent reading, I would estimate its probably on an average third grade level. It's a great book for any animal lover.