There’s nothing that goes together better than a child and a dog, unless it’s a child and a cat or some other kind of pet. In this collection of wonderful picture books, the authors show the special bond that children have with animals. Full disclosure: I’m a teacher, and I believe every child should have a pet. I must also disclose that I rescue dogs and cats (and occasionally rats and rabbits and birds) and always help my students try to convince their parents that they should have a dog or cat. Read on and maybe you’ll be convinced, too.
An incredibly beautiful and touching book is “Stormy: a story about finding a forever home” by Guojing. It’s a picture book without words, but it’s more than a picture book — it’s a work of art. Each illustration is a thing of beauty, from the cover with a picture of a fluffy yellow dog and a ball, to the front endpapers which show a cloudy dusk with an oval shape huddled under a bench near a tree. The shape is in the shadows, and the loneliness oozes out of the picture. In fact, Guojing’s artwork captures the fear and anguish that a stray dog alone without a family or home must feel, huddled under a bench for protection against the elements, frightened of a woman who comes to sit on the bench. When the woman notices the dog, she watches it, but the dog has run away from her, and she leaves. The next day, she brings a ball, and slowly, over days, we see through beautiful and touching illustrations how the relationship begins to grow. But trust doesn’t come easily to stray dogs. But when a thunderstorm comes, things change. This is a book that animal lovers will adore as it hits an emotional home run. What the woman does, going slowly, being patient, is just what needs to be done (although if you are in this situation, food helps, too). Children love telling the story from the pictures, and they notice many details. This is a wonderful picture book for children of all ages. Young children love the story, and it’s a great introduction for older children to ways to tell a story without words. They can practice their writing skills by writing the story that goes with the illustrations. This is a book that should be on the shelves of every library and in classrooms. It’s a very special book. (Schwartz & Wade)
“Two Brothers, One Tail” by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Jay Fleck is a sweet, light-hearted tale of brothers, and it’s told in rhyme. One brother walks on two legs and one on four, but they share their lives as brothers, playing together, eating together, watching fireworks together. The brother dog appears to be a beagle-type dog, and the interaction between the two is beautifully illustrated in simple pictures with blocks of bright color and lots of white. The joy in the relationship jumps off the page. Perfect for any child who has a dog or who wants a dog. (Philomel Books)
“Dog and Rabbit” by Barney Saltzberg is a heartwarming story of a dog who has lived alone. But living alone is lonely, especially for dogs, who are basically pack animals. So Dog wants a friend. Rabbit’s story echoes Dog’s. Sometimes Rabbit feels lonely and wants a companion. But when they meet, there is a hilarious misunderstanding. Rabbit sees the bunny decal on Dog’s fridge and decides that befriending that bunny would be lovely. What happens when Rabbit realizes that the bunny isn’t real is sweet and touching. “Dog and Rabbit” is a beautiful story of friendship. It’s also a great way to talk to children about making friends and overcoming misunderstandings. What are the cues that someone wants to be a friend? What does it take to be a good friend? (Charlesbridge)
“Stretchy McHandsome” is the newest picture book by the acclaimed Judy Schachner, whose kitty picture books are always wonderful. In this one, a ginger cat with a very distinctive personality, one green eye, and one blue eye, leaves his family and goes in search of something, and not only is his journey quite eventful, but he ends up with something wonderful — a perfect home. And there’s a sweet twist, too. The home isn’t just for him, but provides room for his whole family! Children will love not only the lovely illustrations — especially the meeting of Stretchy and Beanie, the human he meets whose eyes match his — but also the rhyming text that makes reading this book aloud a pleasure both for the reader and the listener. Readers will learn that being different can be very special, and sometimes you have to go off on a journey to find someone who truly understands you. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
And a picture book about cats inspired by a scientific paper? Yes! “Cats Are a Liquid” by Rebecca Donnelly and Misa Saburi is a clever picture book all about cats and their physical “properties.” Children in lab coats observe cats as they (the cats) fill test tubes, spill milk, and flow downhill. The cats tip and drip and rip. It’s an homage to cats’ ability to pretend to be liquid when they fill any odd space (or box or basket or lap) except when you want to bathe them — when they turn into solids swiftly. The simple illustrations show cats of every size, shape and color. There’s even a one-eyed cat! At the back of the book are some interesting facts. Are cats a liquid? The author gives advice on that. She also provides a few activities and some nonfiction resources. Cat lovers, science lovers, and animal lovers will really enjoy this book! One of the appropriate and touching dedications is, “To all cats waiting to be adopted.” And there are many of those! (Henry Holt)
In “Can I Keep It?” author Lisa Jobe beautifully illustrates a young boy desperate for a pet. He “happens” upon several different animals who he claims followed him home — first a squirrel, then a frog, then a blue bird. His mom patiently points out that squirrels, frogs, and birds live outdoors where they are free and happy. And with each admonition from his mother, the boy imagines himself living as a squirrel, a frog, and a bird. And the sweet boy lets each animal go. Then, he notices what he missed all along, a stray cat with a crooked tail, and he knows exactly where an animal like that would want to live! Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed the cat at the edges of the illustrations all along. Others will want to go back and find the cat on the pages. It’s a wonderful discussion starter about where wild animals belong and what animals make good pets. Stray cats can make excellent pets! The illustrations are a unique combination of watercolor, gouache, and pastels, and all are digitally collaged. There’s lots of white background, but fabulous texture and expressions on the faces of all the featured living creatures, especially the boy. (Page Street Kids)
“Truman” by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins is not about a dog or a cat, but rather a very small, very loyal turtle. Truman lives with “his Sarah” in an apartment building high up above noisy traffic. Like all turtles, Truman is a quiet, peaceful pet. One day, though, things are a bit different. Sarah eats an especially big banana and places two extra green beans in Truman’s dish in his aquarium. She tells Truman to be brave and she leaves. Truman begins to worry. He looks out the window through his aquarium and sees her get on a big bus. He waits and waits and waits. “He waited a thousand hours — tortoise hours, that is — until he could wait no longer.” What Truman does and what he learns (and feels) make this a very special — and sweet — picture book. While real turtles may not perform as heroically as Truman does, his story could lead to a great conversation about expectations from our pets and how we can make their lives enjoyable. (Atheneum Books)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.