Picture books with memorable animals

Kids and animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. Books with animals naturally interest children, and these five picture books include a range of funny, interesting, and just plain curious animals who will fascinate young readers. From an inquisitive owl to an angry bear, a grandmotherly wolf to a white peacock, the range and the humor in these stories will encourage not only good discussion but also a bit of laughter.

“Birds of a Feather” is a story about being different, and Sita Singh and illustrator Stephanie Fizer Coleman bring us a tale about a white peacock who, like the Ugly Duckling, must endure feeling a bit different until the time when he finally shines. Unlike the fairy tale, however, Mo the white peacock isn’t teased by his friends. When they play hide-and-seek in the green foliage, the other peacocks hide easily, but not Mo with his bright white feathers. The text explains that although Mo feels different, “his friends (do) what friends do” and they tell him not to worry, that he’ll still be fine, that he is still a peacock. As they grow older and strut their beautiful, bright tails, he feels more and more apart. But one dark night, when there is no moon, and thunder crashes, Mo realizes that he can do something no other peacock can. And Mo feels that he belongs, and more importantly, that his white feathers make him special. At the end of the book is the Author’s Note about white peacocks and Fun Facts About Peacocks. Kids will love learning about Mo and the facts about peacocks, and teachers and parents will love this story that prompts discussions about how being different can often be a wonderful thing. And it’s important to discuss how Mo’s friends never make him feel bad because of his differences. (Philomel Books)

Everyone knows that owls say, “Hoo.” Or is it, “Who?” And wolves say, “Ooouuu,” or is it, “How?” So when Little Owl and Little Wolf ask different questions, like “why” and “when,” their parents are understandably upset. They get teased for not conforming and staying within the rigid lines that mark what’s “done.” So the young animals set out to find a place where they can ask whatever they want. There’s a little of “Who’s on First” as the other animals ask Little Owl and Little Wolf questions and then don’t understand the answers. ‘Skunk stepped toward Little Wolf and said, “Little Wolf, what did I hear you say? “WHEN.” “Just now.” “WHEN,” explained Little Wolf. “Oh, forget it!” said Skunk.’ This is a perfect opportunity for teachers and parents to explain how quotation marks work, and how to remember who is doing the talking. Kids will also enjoy discussing why skunk gets angry when all Little Wolf has done was to answer the question that Skunk had asked! (Then play them an audio of the classic “Who’s on First.”) When Little Wolf and Little Owl end up getting lost, it’s only by asking lots of questions using different questioning words that they make their way back to their families — their very welcoming families who ask them about their adventures using a variety of questioning words! (Page Street Kids)

“Don’t Call Me FuzzyButt!” by Robin Newman and illustrated by Susan Batori is a picture book that teaches compromise and empathy, as the hibernating bear and the woodpecker must settle their differences and get along. Bear is getting ready to hibernate. He’s a light sleeper, so any little noise wakes him up. To combat that, he’s knitted earmuffs, posted signs, and build a sturdy door to keep noise out of his den. But Woodpecker has a problem. All of his carefully constructed birdhouses (he’s in real estate) have disappeared. When Woodpecker finds that his houses have been converted into Bear’s door, it doesn’t go well. When they call each other names, it gets worse! But soon, everyone realizes that name calling isn’t nice, it hurts feelings, and getting along is better. Compromise. Working together. Wonderful moral lessons that this story will teach. (Sleeping Bear Press)

“Imagine A Wolf” is a carefully crafted, beautifully illustrated picture book about how we shouldn’t judge by appearances or even by labels. Lucky Platt uses her creative talent to surprise readers on each page as we first imagine a wolf. She reveals, bit by bit, the wolf parts that might reinforce our preconceived notion of what a wolf looks like before showing us her wolf, resplendent in wedge sandals, apron, and her knitting. We see all that before we even arrive at the title page! And as we read on, this Granny-type wolf goes on to shatter even more stereotypes. She shows us fairy tales with stories of “bad wolves,” as in “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Pigs” and laments that people (i.e. three cute little pigs) find her frightening. As a riff on “Little Red Riding Hood,” on a page with a HUGE illustration of her beautiful green wolf eyes and her incredibly sharp wolf teeth, she asks, “What do YOU think I use these big teeth for?” Hint: It has something to do with knitting. When people misjudge her, it hurts. ‘Everywhere I go, no matter what I do or how much I try to fit in, there’s always someone who cries, “WOLF!”‘ In spite of the hurt, she picks herself up. In fact, as we find out (but no spoilers here), this big not-bad wolf actually has a soft heart and generous nature. This sweet story of a good wolf will warm the hearts of children and adults. It’s thoughtful and thought-provoking. Cue discussions about how we judge based on physical characteristics and other differences and why that habit is all wrong. I can’t wait to read this with my fourth graders and have them think of examples of how people “cry wolf” and how we can help. (Page Street Kids)

Some books are kind of like unicorns — they might seem frivolous and only good for being beautiful, but once you look inside, you see power and goodness. “Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn” by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham is a bit like that. The fuzzy, furry, green-eyed, pink-haired kitty on the cover sports a sparkly rainbow “horn.” Careful reading (don’t miss the endpapers) shows the pink kitty admiring a picture of a unicorn and creatively creating her own unicorn horn out of paper and glue and glitter. When Kitty looks in the mirror, she doesn’t see a small pink kitty wearing a paper horn on her head. Instead, she sees a majestic white unicorn with purple flowing locks and a golden horn. But in rhyming text (Kitty’s nicknames rhyme), her best friends Parakeet and Gecko tell her that she’s a cat, not a unicorn. Each maneuver she makes, they shoot down. “You’re still not a unicorn, Fuzzy-heinie,” Parakeet tells her. Gecko reminds her of her stubby tail. but in a surprising ending, when a real unicorn appears, Kitty realizes that being a Kitty-Corn can be a great compromise. Thoughtful discussion will remind students of the importance of imagination and encouraging creative thinking. It’s also a wonderful reminder that we often want to be what we are not, when others might just want to be what we are! And finally, it’s a sweet tale of friendship and finding others who enjoy imagining what can be. (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.