A few weeks ago, the Do Nothing But Read podcast was about books in which animals are the main characters. The books included Jaws, Planet of the Apes, and Cujo. Not particularly friendly animals, but entertaining ones nonetheless.
I babysat an adorable two-year-old today, and we read about fifteen picture books in around an hour. I started noticing that most picture books that feature animals are focused on different kinds of animals being friends. Is this a none-too-subtle hint to kids to love people who are different from them? Probably, but it also makes for great books.
Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty
I had never heard of this book before, but it is adorable and I will be buying it. Author and illustrator Peter McCarty tells the story of Hondo, a dog, and Fabian, a cat, and their respective fun afternoons. Hondo goes to the beach and plays with his friend, Fred (another dog). Fabian stays at home and plays with (and runs away from) the baby. The illustrations are muted and worn-looking, and if the car in the book is any indication, the story takes place in the 1930s or 1940s. There is very little text, but most of the story is in the juxtaposition of the minimal text and the lovely pictures. Fabian is my favorite; he is a fat, floofy cat that sort of looks like my cat, Oscar. Hondo and Fabian are friends, but in an animal way. It’s nice.
Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
I think Frog and Toad sort of started this subgenre of “animal friend” books. Frog is tall, skinny, and affable, while Toad is short, stout, and grumpy. And yet, they are best friends. This book is the first of four. Each book has five short stories about the pair and each story is simply illustrated. These are delightful stories about friendship and being a good person. Some stories are surprisingly poignant, too.
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Oh, no list of animal books would be complete without Stellaluna. The little fruit bat has charmed people for years, and rightly so. Stellaluna’s mother is attacked by an owl (don’t worry, she’s okay), and the baby bat falls into a bird nest. She lives there for a while, living as a bird, until her mom finds her again. It’s so sweet, and it shows that even though people grow up differently, they are still inherently the same. The illustrations are gorgeous; Cannon manages to make a fruit bat look disgusted at one point (when she has to eat a bug), and that’s a feat.
The Mitten by Jan Brett
This is an old Ukrainian folktale: a boy loses his mitten in the woods, and a variety of larger and larger woodland creatures decide to make a home of it. But what happens when the bear sneezes? Jan Brett’s version of the tale has lush, intricate paintings, and the boy who drops his mitten can be seen in the borders of the pages, unaware of what’s going on. Most of Jan Brett’s books have animals as main characters, and they are always depicted in a realistic fashion. Her version of The Owl and the Pussycat is my favorite.
Mo Willems is generally fantastic, and I recommend every single one of his books. They are silly without being stupid. This book features Gerald and Piggie. They are best friends. One day, Gerald has a bird on his head! Piggie helps him out. There Is a Bird on Your Head! won the 2008 Theodor Geisel Award; that’s the Dr. Seuss Award, essentially. There are quite a few Elephant and Piggie books, so kids who like this one will have plenty more from which to choose.
What’s your favorite animal friends book?