Kids and animals — I love fabulous picture books about animals that will get kids hooked on reading. These nonfiction picture books are filled with color and animals, some about specific animals that fly or swim and about a plethora of other animals. One is even poetry about animals. Enjoy this list of books that are perfect for animal lovers and great for any library or bookshelf. Be prepared to read them time and time again for your young animal lover. It’s a long list, but it’s a wonderful one.
My grandson’s favorite book right now is “Encyclopedia of Animals,” written by Jules Howard and illustrated by Jarom Vogel. It’s not a huge book, but it’s filled with animals of many colors and types. At three years old, Abe loves asking to see the gorillas and the sharks. But as he gets older, he will appreciate the insects and the birds. Right now, he likes to leaf through the pages, but he will learn that the Contents section at the beginning shows him where different species can be found. And there’s a great learning tool in the beginning, a “How to Use this Book” section that teaches young readers about chapter headers, navigation, Latin names, and fact files that are included for each animal. For example, before the section on mammals, there is a double-page spread on “What is a Mammal?” It says, in part, “Today, more than 5,000 different species live on Earth. Among the smallest are the Etruscan shrew and the bumblebee bat. The largest is the blue whale: it is larger than any animal that has ever lived on our planet.” The opposite page lists mammal characteristics: hair, teeth, whiskers, live birth, and milk. The illustrations are worthy of note, too. They are bright and at times delicate, often highlighted on the off-white paper background. (The Quarto Group)
“Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys” by Mike Unwin and illustrated by Jenni Desmond is a beautifully and expertly created nonfiction picture book about the myriad of animals that travel long distances—tiny birds, like the ruby throated hummingbird, that fly over oceans and the bar-headed geese that cross the Himalayas and have a special circulation system to pump oxygen around their bodies as they cross the high mountains where the air is thin and the temperature way below freezing. And, of course, one of the most famous migrations is included:Africa’s Great Migration, when the wildebeests and zebra travel from the Serengeti plains to the Masai Mara in Kenya following the rain and the grass. The text is informative, but also at times practically poetic. The headings for each animal migration often don’t include the names of the animals causing the reader to get clues from the illustrations and the text to find out what animal the heading refers to. “Forests of Flutter” is about the migration of the monarch butterfly from Mexico to the United States. Who knew that butterflies can travel up to 60 miles a day and that they use strong air currents to help them fly the long distances. “Flight of the Dragons” is about the globe skimmer dragon fly that migrates from India to Eastern Africa. “Ice March” is about the long, perilous journey of the emperor penguins from their breeding ground to the sea. The males wait two months in the bitter cold, protecting their chicks without eating until their mates return from the ocean. Kids (and adults) will love checking out all the migrating animals, from those who swim to those who fly. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
For a fun picture book about sharks that kids will love, try “Chomp: A Shark Romp” by Michael Paul. Even the endpapers are lovely, with different unusual sharks labeled against a plain background with a stylized oval that almost encircles each one. Each page features different sharks, and the illustrations are simple, with flat blocks of color that paradoxically are very stylized but also include a lot of detail about each shark. The illustration of the lantern shark is a double page spread that is mostly very dark shades of blue with a light blue shark that really seems to glow against the dark background. There isn’t a lot of detail about each shark — just enough to entertain (and educate) young readers. We learn that the basking shark is a picky eater, but the tiger shark will eat almost anything. The illustration is of a tiger shark getting ready to eat a floating car’s license plate. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
“Bird Count” by Susan Edwards Richmond and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman is not technically a nonfiction book, but it’s a pretty straightforward accounting of what it’s like to be a “citizen scientist” and participate in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. In this story, young Ava gets to keep track of the birds they see as they travel their area counting every bird. The rules are explained, and at the end of the book there is more information about the species of birds they see in the story. (Peachtree)
“Moth: An Evolution Story” by Isabel Thomas and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus is truly a beautiful book. The stunning cover gives us a hint that the illustrations inside will be special — it’s a deep blue with dark trees, almost black, on each side of a large shiny silver moth. The title, “Moth,” is also in silver. The story is of the peppered moth and how it evolved. At the start of the story, most of the peppered moths were speckled and able to blend in perfectly with trees. The few all-black peppered moths were easy to see and eaten by predators. “Hundreds of tiny eggs hatched. The moths with the best camouflage survived long enough to have offspring and pass on their salt and pepper wings.” Then the environment changed, and the air filled with smoke and soot. “Pollution stained the clouds and blackened the branches where peppered moths slept.” Now the black moth had the best camouflage. “Fifty years later there were just as many peppered moths as ever. But most were charcoal-colored. The speckled, freckled moths were rare. The moths adapted to changes in the world.” The text is about natural selection, and the illustrations are riveting. Egnéus created the black and white and gray moths and illustrations using a combination of watercolor, crayons, acrylics, collage and Photoshop. They are vibrant and each page is a work of art. Some seem almost colorless while others display bright blues and fabulous emerald birds. This is a perfect choice to read to a class learning about evolution and natural selection. It’s a must-have for school libraries. Kids will love looking at the illustrations and reading about this fascinating story. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Another lovely and informative picture book about evolution is “Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species” adapted and illustrated by Sabina Radeva. There is no table of contents because this nonfiction book’s information is shared through Darwin. “According to Darwin,” and “Darwin knew,” “Darwin explained” all serve to share the information as Darwin discovered it. The illustrations help to convey the message. This is definitely a book for older picture book readers. Third graders and older students will find this book accessible and fascinating. The endpapers are filled with beautiful and colorful illustrations of butterflies and insects. At the end, the author presents a Conclusion with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. There is also an Author’s Note in which she explains why she couldn’t include more from Darwin’s journeys and original text. The Appendix gives more detail for readers who aren’t satisfied with the text and want to delve deeper into the facts. There is a page of Misconceptions and a Glossary and Recommended Reading. Budding scientists and animal lovers will enjoy reading this book. To be published on October 29, 2019. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
“The Animal Awards” by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Tor Freeman is a clever way to present unusual and fascinating animals to kids. 50 animals will win awards for everything including terrific teeth, most smelly, soil improvement, and deep sea diver, to name just a few. The Noisy award goes to the superb lyrebird for the “Best song around.” This bird can sing beautiful sounds but is also an expert copycat. On the same page is the pistol shrimp, which makes a sound that is so loud it can stun or kill small animals nearby. An unusual array of animals win the cooperation award, including the honeybee, the gray wolf, the naked mole rat, and clownfish and sea anemones (who coexist together beautifully). Honeybees really believe in cooperation and as many as 30,000 worker bees might live in a single nest. Wolves also cooperate in their packs, and while not nearly as numerous as the honeybees, together, wolves can chase down large dangerous animals that would have been impossible to hunt alone. The most shocking award goes to the electric eel. The really smelly award, no surprise, goes to the skunk. What makes this book really special is that there are not just 50 animals in it. Rather, for almost every award, the author includes several that are worthy inclusions. The cover is adorable, with the animals together holding embossed shiny gold awards. Perfect for libraries, classrooms and homes. I could see a teacher reading a snippet about one particular animal every morning or while students are lining up at the end of the day. It’s a great way to get them to listen as well as to impart just a bit of information that they’ll love learning. (The Quarto Group)
“Atlas of Ocean Adventures” also includes after the title, “Plunge into the depths of the ocean and discover Wonderful Sea Creatures, Incredible Habitats, and Unmissable Underwater Events.” It’s written by Emily Hawkins and illustrated by Lucy Letherland. First of all, this is a large book — coffee table book sized. It’s also very colorful. The endpapers are filled with different kinds of coral. Before the contents page, there is a world map with the continents and the oceans named. Sea animals adorn the map as do some birds. The contents page is aqua in color and decorated with white grid lines and more birds and sea creatures. The animals are organized by ocean. Each double page spread has colorful illustrations of the animal in its habitat, an inset with a small world map showing the animal’s range, another inset showing special characteristics of the animal, and text with more information. The headings are all clever and informative;for example, “Aerial acrobatics with the spinner dolphins, Hawaii.” Each page is beautifully laid out from the large landscape illustration with the animal and other animals in the environment, the insets, and the edging that runs around each page featuring a repeated tiny colorful silhouette of the animal on that page. It’s obvious that much care went into the planning of this book, and while it’s a picture book, it’s a book for everyone from young readers to adults. Also, just for fun, there’s a double page spread of “Can you find?” and there are hidden figures for eagle eyes to look for on the pages. There is a teddy bear in Hawaii, and one of the dolphins is wearing a nightcap! Kids (and adults) will have fun going back through the pages and finding the baby otter with a lifebelt and a compass in South Georgia Island. To help find the right pages, there’s an index at the back. Available November 5, 2019. (The Quarto Group)
“Who Named Their Pony Macaroni? Poems about White House Pets” by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Ryan McAmis is filled with informative poems that are fun to read aloud because of their rhythm and rhyme. Most include offbeat stories that will surprise and certainly amuse. Who knew that Reagan’s dog saw a ghost?
“Ronald Reagan liked to boast
that Rex, his dog, had seen a ghost–
Honest Abe, to be exact,
though none confirmed it as a fact.”
I loved learning that Lyndon Baines Johnson’s favorite dog, Yuki, was a mutt that his daughter found abandoned at a gas station. He slept with the dog and swam with Yuki. Equally as informative and interesting as the poems is the information in the section at the end, Executive Pets. There is information about presidents and their pets. Dolley Madison had a beloved macaw named Polly, and she often greeted guests with the macaw on her shoulder. The illustrations are quirky and eye-catching. On one page are painted mice with cords for tails and what appear to be actual bread crumbs. (Disney-Hyperion)
And the youngest readers, those who are better off with board books so clumsy fingers don’t damage delicate pages, also love books about animals. Two board books in the “Hello, World!” series are sure to please young readers. Jill McDonald’s illustrations are really bright, and in “Pets” children will love the bold red background behind the Dalmatian. There is important information about each pet. For example, “Dogs should be walked every day. They have lots of energy, and exercise makes them feel better.” The big white rabbit is surrounded by colorful, healthy, rabbit snacks like a pear, broccoli, a strawberry and spinach. “Arctic Animals” is also colorful but with cooler colors — lots of blue and white snow and ice. The puffins have orange beaks in the illustration although we learn “A puffin’s beak is gray in winter, but in spring it turns bright orange.” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
Last but certainly not least is a beautiful book, “Let’s Go on Safari!” written jointly by an eight-year-old girl and the woman who was her safari guide in South Africa. When young Kate Gilman Williams went to South Africa, everything she saw amazed her. And her guide, Michelle Campbell was kind and patient, allowing Kate to participate in the drives and explaining to her how to find the animals, their habits, and the danger they are in. She explained how many animals, including elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos, are hunted for body parts, and others are seriously harmed and killed by snares. Kate decided to try to help the wild animals by writing a book to inform other young readers about the need to protect the animals from hunters and showing how to be an advocate for the animals. The pictures are beautiful, and the story is told from the two perspectives of Kate and Michelle. The information is presented in a simple, easy-to-understand manner, and the photographs help tie the information to real animals. Kids will love looking at this book — younger readers for the animal photos and older readers for the information as well. (Crickhollow Books)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.