Animals in Picture Books
Picture books about animals are hard to classify. Many picture books that are primarily about something else have animal characters. Some picture books about animals are nonfiction — not really stories at all. Many all animal characters talk as though they were human, and seem to have human personality traits, yet they retain their animal characteristics, as well.
On this page I will try to stick to stories and nonfiction books where animals retain some animal characteristics, rather than those such as the Russell Hoban Frances books. In such books the characters are animal, but they live in human houses, sometimes wear human clothes, and engage in human activities. Their authors have made them animals just to make them appealing.
On the other hand, it’s hard to think of putting The Three Little Kittens anywhere except in cat stories. I’ll do the best I can to organize these in a way that you will find what you need.
I will continue to add more books to this page as time goes one
Cat Stories in Picture Books
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert. Harcourt, 1990. The family cat escapes the house and decides birds would make a good lunch. The problem is that they are hard to catch because the cat wears a bell and the birds can fly and he can’t, so all he gets is feathers for lunch. Young readers will meet twelve well-known and colorful birds, all of whom escape the cat.
With her usual bold and colorful style Ehlert educates as she entertains. Her pictures have labels so young readers can learn the names of the birds and plants in the pictures. At the back is a handy guide to all the birds in the story, with information on their size, food, and habitats. BTH-5615.
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. Putnam & Grosset, 1996. An old couple is lonely, and the wife tells the husband she wants a cat. So he goes to find one for her. After quite a search, he comes to a hill where he sees cats everywhere “Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats.” He decided to choose the prettiest one to take home. But every time he chose one, he saw another, so he decided to take that one home, too. Before he knew it, he’d chosen them all. And they all followed him home, after drinking a pond dry and eating all the grass on a hill. When his wife saw them coming, she was a bit overwhelmed, but she asked practically how they would ever feed them all. They decided to let the cats decide which was the prettiest, with a drastic result. In the end, the old couple get their wish, but the ending is not so happy for “Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats.” This classic picture book is a great read aloud. BTH-5088.
One Little Kitten by Tana Hoban.
One Little Kitten is very easy to read because it has type this size:“A new day. It’s time to play” The rhyming story is also very simple, and appropriate for even toddlers — especially those who like kitties. This little kitten explores its surroundings, and each new discovery and adventure is photographed almost life size in black and white. There are some adorable pictures here for cat-lovers of all ages, so even though it’s for the preschool set, there’s no need to limit it to that. BTH-4894.
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley. Illustrated by Itoko Maeno. Piccolo is a carefree tomcat who lives in the narrow streets and alleys of Venice, Italy. He leads an independent life and is respected by the other cats in his territory. But one night he discovers something that threatens his carefree life and independence and starts him on a new adventure — the adoption of two kittens who need a home and a mentor. In turn, they help him to discover his own tender heart. The gorgeous illustrations will appeal to cat lovers of all ages and children will also discover the world along the streets and canals of Venice from a cat’s viewpoint.
My affiliate link above links to the hardcover copies at Amazon or you can buy mine direct while they last. If you buy the kindle edition you will get what you pay for and entirely miss the experience of the rich illustrations which make the book so special.
Six-Dinner Sid by Inga Moore. Sid is one smart cat. He’s got six different families who think they own him — all on the same block. He got a different dinner from each one every day and no one got wise to Sid’s duplicity because none of the neighbors ever talked to each other. All that changed, however, when Sid caught a nasty cough, and all six “owners” took Sid to the same vet, where he was given six different doses of medicine. After seeing the same cat six times in a day, he got suspicious, checked his address book and called all of Sid’s owners. They finally did talk to each other, and they decided Sid would only get one dinner a day from then on. But Sid was a six-dinner cat. And he found a way to solve his problem without anyone being unhappy. No cat lover should miss this book. The pictures are wonderful! BTH-2406
Top Cat by Lois Ehlert, Harcourt, 1998. With her usual colorful and bold pictures, Ehlert captures the experience of an only cat who is suddenly expected to share his stuff and his space with a new kitten. Large letters with lots of white space make this easy for beginning readers to tackle. Unpaginated.
Dog Stories in Picture Books
Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Angus the little Scottie terrier is full of curiosity about the world. He is especially curious about what makes the quacking sounds he hears from the other side of the green hedge when he is outside. But he is always on a leash when he is outside, and someone is always at the other end of it, so his curiosity remains unsatisfied, since he can’t see over the hedge.
One day, someone leaves the door open and he has a chance to find out. After crawling under the hedge, he sees the pair of ducks and they see him. His efforts at communication are met with rejection as the ducks run away. But when they see him drinking their water, the tables are turned. He has learned that ducks aren’t likely to be his friends anytime soon. BTH-1255.
Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Angus the little Scottie terrier has grown longer and older, and has learned many new things. But in this book he is introduced to cats — creatures who have always before been just out of reach. One day Angus discovers one in his very own living room, and this book shows the steps he took in making her acquaintance. BTH-1254.
Pinkerton, Behave! Pinkerton the dog doesn’t do very well in obedience school, but his young owner understands his disobedience well enough to get around it when it’s time to foil a burglar. Steven Kellogg once again brings humor to an unlikely story with his zany illustrations. paper, 6.99
Three Names by Patricia Maclachlan. HarperTrophy, 1991. How does a dog get three names? Grandfather explains as he reminisces about growing up on the prairie with his beloved dog, Three Names, which is really his fourth name. The watercolor illustrations by Alexander Pertzoff show the beauty of the prairie and the contrast between going to school almost a hundred years ago and today. Both getting there and what happened when students arrived is totally different than it is now. Three Names is an important character in the book as we watch him interact with everyone, including the teacher. For ages 5-9. BTH-1955.
Picture Books About Ducks
If your preschool children like ducks, some of the most appealing ones have been drawn by Nancy Tafuri in this brightly colored book entitled Have You Seen My Duckling? The story, whose few words are in giant print, is told mostly by the large, bold pictures of the affectionate mother duck trying to find the one of her eight ducklings who has wandered away from the nest. Your child will be able to spot the missing duckling in every picture, and will also be introduced to the other creatures who live in the pond. The story ends happily with all eight ducklings falling asleep in their nest as dusk falls.
I learned to read as my mother read me a book similar to this over and over. It was also mostly pictures with only a few words in giant print, and as I heard the book repeatedly, I began to connect the words with their meanings.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
I still remember how much I loved Make Way for Ducklings when I was very young. In it a pair of mallard ducks searches Boston for just the right place to build a nest to raise a family of ducklings — a place safe from boys on bicycles and other dangers, such as foxes and turtles. Mr. and Mrs Mallard finally decide on a small island in the St. Charles River, not far from the Boston Public Gardens. I still remember vividly how the policemen held the traffic back so that the ducks could cross the street after the ducklings had hatched and their parents wanted to take them to the Boston Public Gardens so they could learn to swim. Children enjoy this book now just as much as I did when I was a child. BTH-1234.
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
The Story about Ping. Ping is a Chinese duck who lives with his very large family on a boat with two wise eyes on the Yangtze River. This boat had a small bridge on which the large duck family could go out to the land in the morning and return to the boat at night. On land they could hunt for tasty things to eat, but each evening, when the master of the boat would call them, they needed to return to the boat. The boat master watched as they walked up the bridge each evening and he would always give the last duck to return a spank on the back with a stick.
One evening Ping didn’t hear him call because he had his head under water catching a fish. When he saw his mother , aunts, and cousins marching up the bridge, he knew he’d be last. He didn’t want that spank. So he hid. That night and the next day he learned why it was so important to be on the boat each night. He had a lot of scary adventures, and learned that some things are worse than a spank on the back. The book is beautifully illustrated by Kurt Wiese. For children 3-8. BTH-1236.
Exotic Animal Stories in Picture Books
Capyboppy, written and illustrated by Bill Peet: The true story of how Bill Peet’s college-age son Bill, who loved exotic animals, bought a pet capybara, to be raised and cared for by the Peet family. For the uninitiated, the capybara is the world’s largest rodent, and can grow into something resembling a 200-pound guinea pig. In his humorous style and personality-packed black-and-white drawings, Bill Peet brings the antics and interactions of the rapidly-growing rodent with the family and its three bewildered cats vividly to life. The expressions on the cats’ faces when Capyboppy eats their food and claims Mrs. Peet’s lap are priceless and worth the price of the book by themselves. Remember, the pictures are drawn by a Disney artist.
This book will be enjoyed by anyone over 7, and a 9-year-old can probably handle the reading alone. However, it’s a great book for the family to enjoy aloud together. It is 62 pages long. BTH-2229.
Picture Books About Horses
Blaze Series, written and illustrated by C. W. Anderson. Sensitive black/white/gray drawings encourage children to read the text, which is at chapter book level. Titles include Billy and Blaze, Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony, Blaze and the Forest Fire, Blaze and the Lost Quarry, Blaze and the Mountain Lion, Blaze and the Thunderbolt, Blaze Finds the Trail, and Blaze Shows the Way
These books show the wonderful relationship between Billy and his horse, Blaze as they have many adventures together. The art alone is worth the price of the books.
Top image is cover art. Gray image is typical of inside illustrations.
If your children wish they were better-looking, they will identify with the pony in Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, by Jan Brett. For ages 4-8. Ugly horses were not allowed inside the walled city, famous for its beautiful horses. Fritz, a not-so-good-looking gentle and hard-working pony, was one of those who was excluded. More than anything he wanted to be ridden by a child. One day the bridge into the walled city breaks, and Fritz gets to realize his dream and become a hero all at once.
Caps for Sale, written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. A hat peddler learns the hard way not to sleep with a head full of caps under a tree full of monkeys. Your children will delight in watching him try to retrieve his caps from his mischievous imitators. Also available in Spanish
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatix Potter. F. Warne and Co., 2002. Hardcover, small format. This is a reprint of the original 1902 edition with reset text and new reproductions of Potter’s illustrations. This classic story of Peter Rabbit’s misadventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden and its consequences has become part of America’s cultural heritage. 69 pages. Size is approximately 4″ x 6.” BTH-1953 I have described my copy. Other editions may be available when you click through to Amazon.
Other Animal Stories
Rosie’s Walk. With only 32 giant print words, Pat Hutchins humorously portrays a hen, unaware of the fox who follows her, foiling his attempts to catch her because of the obstacle course she’s chosen for her walk. A good book for teaching prepositions. Also available with audio. BTH-2405.
Some Smug Slug, by Pamela Edwards. Illustrated by Henry Cole. This paperback book is one of my favorites. Young children will enjoy the alliterative “S” sounds in this book as it is read to them, and everyone will enjoy the great illustrations of animals and creepie crawlies by Henry Cole. The slug, who is full of personality, is determined to climb a slippery slope. He surmounts each obstacle to finally reach the top, while other creatures look on with sympathy or amusement or even sarcasm, because they already know what the reader doesn’t discover until the end. (By the way, if you become fond of the slug, you won’t like the ending.) For ages 4-9. 32 pages. BTH-2615
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Drawings by Robert Lawson. Penguin, Unpaginated. This is the classic story of the peaceful little bull who would rather sit and smell the flowers than fight. But one day, when some men in funny hats were searching for a very fierce bull to fight in the bull fights in Madrid, Ferdinand accidentally sat on a clover blossom with a bee in it. And I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Poor Ferdinand! And poor spectators of the big Madrid bull fights. BTH-1954. Available in English and Spanish.
Thy Friend, Obadiah, by B. Turkle. The story of a young Quaker boy who is befriended by a sea gull. Ages 4-8, paper, BTH-2617
Who is the Beast? by Keith Baker. Voyager Books, 1990. A tiger hears all the animals warning each other about the beast who is near — the beast who has a swinging tail, yellow and black stripes, strong legs, green eyes, and long, white whiskers. He wonders who this beast everyone is so afraid of might be. He looks into the pool and sees his reflection, and is puzzled. “Who is the beast? Who can it be? I see no beast. I just see me.” He then compares himself to the other animals and is able to find some other animal who shares one of each of the characteristics that inspired the fear of him. He comes to the conclusion that they are all beasts.
I am not quite sure what the author is saying in this book. He might be saying that we don’t see ourselves as others see us. And he might be saying that at the core we all share the same characteristics and shouldn’t be prejudiced or afraid of each other. Or he may not have been trying to make any profound point at all. You’ll need to decide for yourself.
The artwork, in my opinion, is what makes the book. The pictures of the animals and the jungle are bold and bright and will be sure to capture the attention of young children. With only one line of large print per page, beginning readers will be encouraged to read this for themselves — especially if they’ve heard it read to them a few times. BTH-5089.
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