Animals, whether they are talking animals or pets, are a popular subject in picture books. Below, I mention a few of the many Cybils Fiction Picture Book Nominees on the subject, from zoo animals and farm animals to wild animals, including some animals who don’t quite behave like animals “normally” do. Most animals in picture books talk or otherwise have some marvelous talent and personality. No wonder kids all want a pet! Animals are so exciting in picture books. (I may have to revisit the animals theme for Cybils this year: there are plenty omitted from this list.) For your reference, my son is four-years-old right now.
Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic, February 2011) is a wordless book about a Walrus who escapes from the zoo. As the zoo keeper searches for him around town, Walrus cleverly hides wherever he can find a place, blending in with the town workers and scenery. My son loved finding Walrus on each page. Although the clever Walrus does return to the zoo, he finds his place with a special talent. A clever book with simple illustrations just right for the young reader who likes search-and-find books.
ZooZical by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown (Knopf, August 2011). It is winter and the zoo animals have the doldrums. The genius idea of the small hippo and young kangaroo is to dance and sing throughout the zoo. So of course the zoo animals put on a musical performance, titled a “ZooZical.” My son (age 4) and I loved the silly animals, the familiar songs to sing, and the happy spirit that came from this book. The illustrations are bright and fun (the front matter indicates it’s gouache on gessoed wood), and this is a book we’ll have to revisit in order to keep the winter “doldrums” out of our home this winter.
Along the same lines is another colorful picture book about animals singing, What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson (Abrams, October 2011). The beaver choir director wants to present his latest song about what animals like to do. To his surprise, though, the lions don’t like to prowl and the cows don’t like to moo: they have something else that they really like, from blowing big bubbles to playing ping pong. My son loved reading the book repeatedly simply because he loves silliness. Besides, he knows what animals are supposed to like to do; it’s always fun to randomly change expectations. The illustrations give it even more humor.
Hogwash! by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jim McMullan (Little, Brown, June 2011) is a silly book about a farmer who wants to give the pigs a bath. With Karma Wilson’s signature rhyming style (as in Bear Snores On and The Cow Loves Cookies), she brings a silly farm’s humor to life. To my son’s delight, by the end, the farmer decides to play in the mud too. There is nothing serious here: it is pure entertainment. The illustrations are, appropriately, done in watercolor. A perfect way to capture bath day – or, more accurately, what was supposed to be bath day.
Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Simon and Schuster, January 2011), tells the story of a very cranky duck who does not want his silent pond disturbed. When the nearby farm animals begin using his pond for their weekly swim, Duck is not happy. That is until he realizes how much he loves to play with his friends. This is another amusing story about someone learning that having friends takes being a little more flexible than before. The acrylic paintings are bright and amusing, a perfect fit for a hilarious story.
In 999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura and illustrated by Yasunari Murakami (North South, May 2011), the frog parents of the 999 babies soon find that there is simply not enough space in their little lake for their family, so the entire family leaves the lake in search of a new home. With the dangers of snakes and owls, it will take an exciting adventure to get the entire family to a new home safely. With amusing results, the frogs’ story is one my son and I will not forget! The illustrations are simple (as they must be, considering that there are 1,001 frogs) but they are perfect for the amusing tale.
Over in the Meadow illustrated by Jill McDonald (Barefoot Books, April 2011) comes with a singalong CD (sung by Susan Reed) so of course, my son loved it! In the past, we have checked out a different version of the “Over in the Meadow” folksong. I loved this illustrated version, which is a digital collage of painted papers. There is both a natural look and a child-like innocence to the bright pages illustrating the familiar rhyme about the animals gathered at various pages in the meadow. I loved the quilted look of the meadow, and the bright colors add a degree of cheerfulness to the poem/song.
I’ve got to admit that I love a great large, sprawling picture book that lets a little one (or myself) sink into the artwork on each page. Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron (Candlewick, November 2010), is one such book. Although there is little text in comparison to the oversized picture book pages, it only adds to the contrast between the little fly and the huge animals he pesters: tigers, elephants, and hippos. The paintings are bright and absolutely stunning for this mom. It was a delight to read aloud with my preschooler. It’s always fun when the small underdog wins in the end.