Cats, a pigeon (THE pigeon), and troubled pugs star in these picture books

These four picture books all feature animals, but the messages they impart are all quite different. However, in all of them, the animals are clever and open to new ideas, and isn’t that an important message we want to teach our children?

The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster by Mo Willems

Everyone knows the pigeon who wants to drive the bus and get a puppy and stay up late. Well, the latest pigeon escapade is that “The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster!” by, of course, Mo Willems. Kids know and love pigeon and giggle at his adventures. You’ve got to love the vocabulary. Pigeon is “aquiver with anticipation,” and he says he will “demonstrate exemplary patience” in the long line. We see what he imagines the roller coaster ride will be like, and pigeon shares all the feelings he is sure he will feel after the exciting ride. The actual ride is…a bit anticlimactic. Nonetheless, pigeon is ready and willing to take another roller coaster ride. Kids will see how pigeon plans and prepares for his ride. He thinks about what he needs to take on the ride. The pages perfectly present Pigeon’s sassy personality, and there is, of course, Willems’s perfectly timed humor. This one is sure to be yet another Pigeon book that kids will want to read over and over. (Union Square Kids)

All Cats Welcome by Susin Nielsen

A book about cats and diversity and how love can cross language boundaries is “All Cats Welcome” by Susin Nielsen and illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Nielsen is the author of “No Fixed Address,” a wonderful middle grade novel. In this picture book, we meet Leonard the cat. We don’t know his human’s name, but it isn’t important. Poor Leonard. He loves his human dearly and talks to him, telling him how much he is loved and begging him to stay and play. But, no matter how much Leonard talks and talks, as Nielsen writes, “His human heard “meow.” That’s all his human hears no matter what Leonard says. One morning, Leonard decides to sneak out of the apartment in his human’s huge cello case. He visits the cat across the street. Strangely, they speak different languages. When Leonard says “Hello,” the cat responds “Hola.” Mariposa is the cat’s name, and although they don’t speak the same language, they understand each other perfectly. They study maps, play cards, and eventually venture out into New York City to see the sights. (At this point, I would caution kids that in real life, cats should never be allowed outside. This is fiction!) But one chilly afternoon, Mariposa’s human closes the window Leonard uses to sneak out and return home. Leonard is stuck! His human misses him! What should he do? The ending is truly lovely, and Nielsen has created another book that is filled with emotion and perfect for conversations about communication; it will be greatly enjoyed by teachers, young readers and their parents. (Atheneum)

Pig the Rebel by Aaron Blabey

And a picture book that seems just silly at first does offer some deeper insight (as well as some fabulous, robust vocabulary!). “Pig the Rebel” features Aaron Blabey’s popular character, Pig the Pug, a selfish, self-centered, naughty, thoughtless, spoiled little dog (and isn’t it the little dogs who can be the worst?!). Pig is a bad, bad, bad boy, and he is sent to the dreaded obedience school. There, the trainer is no-nonsense and gruff. And Pig has had enough of her stuff. In lovely rhyming verses that utilize wonderful words like “ferocity” and “velocity” and “endeavor,” we see how Pig gathers allies, and they escape from training. But their escapade ends badly, and Pig is a changed pug. Or is he? I’d love to have a conversation with kindergarteners and first graders and even older students about whether they think Pig has really turned over a new leaf. I’d have them provide any evidence they can from the text and the illustrations. It would be an enjoyable activity, and learning while having fun is always the best! (Scholastic Press)

Bug on the Rug by Sophia Gholz

Pugs are popular pups, and another pug stars in “Bug on the Rug,” by Sophia Gholz, in which an adorable pug learns that he has unwittingly caused a bug to lose his home. This sometimes-silly story is also a perfect one for beginning readers as the pug and the bug are joined by a slug on the rug. Other simple rhyming words are on each page, making this a book filled with a host of phonetic learning opportunities. The story is simple: pug loves his rug and is upset when a bug takes up residence. They tussle for possession of the rug when slug shows up and tries to mediate. Although you’ve probably never thought about the mediating abilities of a slug, the ones in this picture book are pretty impressive. There is also the discussion opportunity regarding what might cause someone (or a bug) to become homeless. We all love happy endings, and the goofy pictures throughout the book will keep kids entertained. (Sleeping Bear Press)

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