Here are five of our favorite stories featuring anthropomorphized animals and other creatures that we have read this year.
Don’t Worry, Little Crab
written and illustrated by Chris Haughton
Candlewick Press, 2020, 48 pages
One day, Very Big Crab tells Little Crab it’s time to leave their tide pool and head to the ocean. At first, Little Crab is very excited to be going somewhere, but when they reach the ocean, it’s a whole different story. As the waves come nearer and get bigger, so does Little Crab’s reluctance and anxiety. As Very Big Crab gently encourages and reassures Little Crab, the two manage to slowly get closer and closer to the ocean, until enormous wave comes along and washes them down, down, down into the ocean’s depths. And once there, Little Crab couldn’t be happier or more excited. There are friends to be made, seaweed to eat, hide-and-seek to play. And you guessed it, when Very Big Crab says it’s time to go home to their tide pool, Little Crab does not want to leave the ocean. So the very patient and understanding Very Big Crab suggests they take the long way home just to enjoy a little more ocean time. This is a really great for kids who feel anxious when faced with new experiences.
Some Dinosaurs are Small
written and illustrated by Charlotte Voake
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
In this very entertaining book and using spare language, Voake uses a childhood favorite for demonstrating the concept of size and proportion, and teaches readers a little about dinosaurs to boot. The story opens with a very small green dinosaur filling a pill up with fruits to eat later, while nearby lurks a very large dinosaur watching the little one. And yes, you guessed it, the big dinos gang up on the little one and take all his pickings to eat themselves. But is this the end of the story? No indeed it isn’t, because size is relative and in this case, it’s relative to the age of the dinosaur. And young readers will definitely laugh when they discover that little one’s mom is enormous, relative to the large dinos. This is a great book for preschool and beginning readers. The text is simple and large, the unexpected ending is done with age appropriated humor and the quirky, but very appealing watercolor and ink illustrations, done is dusty shades of brown, green, and red, give the story a very prehistoric sense. I read this (repeatedly) to my young readers who loved it, a few of whom are budding dinosaur fans, and I’m pretty sure we will be reading it again and again.
illustrated by Carmen Mok
Owlkids Books, 2020, 32 pages
Jeremy is a cat the really enjoys his freedom. Then, one day, he wakes up after a visit to the vet with a cone covering his head and hampering his freedom of movement, and his super cat senses. Suddenly, Jeremy is plain old clumsy, bumping to things, and no longer able to hunt or even clean himself – PU! But then, Jeremy discovers that he can make the cone work for him. For instance, he can use it to tip a bowl of cereal into the cone, then into his mouth and even saving some cereal for later. Why it even works to get him some ice cream. But then, one morning, the cone comes off. And Jeremy regains his old freedom of movement – a happy cat, but wondering would freedom ever compare to his glory days with the cone? The story ends on a bit of an ironic note. The moral of Jeremy’s cone tale – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or perhaps necessity is the mother of invention. OK, so maybe Jeremy isn’t the best example for kids to follow, but that’s just the point – Jeremy provides a conduit through which behavior conversations can be opened as well as ways to make the best of a bad situation. Kids will also like the whimsical colorful pastel illustrations, especially Jeremy’s melodramatic facial expressions.
written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
Hyperion, 2020, 64 pages
Who doesn’t love Elephant and Piggie? And they like to read…and make lots of puns about it while they introduce their latest book all about worms. Tiger is very big and very brave, not afraid of anything. Well, except worms, Tiger does not like slimy, wiggly worms. The only problem is that worms could be in everything Tiger likes. Like the potted flowers that smell so good. But wait, they are in dirt and worms like dirt. Tiger quickly tosses down the flower pot, which breaks. Tiger likes tasty apples, but then he remembers that so do worms, so he tosses it on the floor with the broken flower pot. Worms, he cries, ruin everything. They could even be in the book Tiger would like to read. But it, too, gets tossed away. Worms, it turns out, are afraid of tigers, but they love all the things Tiger has left on the floor. And that book – well, it was all about tigers. After the worms read it, and learn so much about tigers, they decided they like tigers after all. Books, we learn from this work of meta fiction, can teach us so much. Elephant and Piggie may initially draw kids to this book, but it definitely stands on its own with a great message for young, new readers about not judging a book by its cover and about making snap judgements. The message may be serious, but it’s delivered with lots of humor, and the bright illustrations really harmonize and compliment the story.
written and illustrated by Petr Horáček
Eerdmans BFYR, 2020, 36 pages
When hunters arrive in the jungle and the other animals run and hide, the tiger doesn’t. After all, he may be the last tiger, but he haughtily thinks he is strong, fearless and powerful enough to evade capture. How wrong tiger is. Cunningly captured and taken out of the jungle, tiger is put in a cage for people to look at him. No longer free, strong and powerful, the tiger is very unhappy, so much so that he begins to lose weight – lots of weight. One night, he slips through the bars of his cage and finds his way back to the jungle. There, there tiger once again becomes strong and powerful. But now he is a changed tiger, realizing that strength and power mean nothing without the treasured possession of freedom. The vibrant illustrations and the changing expressions on the face of the tiger are just so perfect for this story. The palette is bold vibrant blues, greens, and browns in the jungle, but the colors mute when the tiger is in captivity. The story is a classic example of that old proverb: “Pride goeth before a fall.” Unfortunately, it is a little to abstract for my young readers, but for older kids, it is a great book for getting them to talk about what freedom is and why it is important, as well as the up and down sides of pride.
What are your favorite picture books about animals?