Although most of us grow up reading picture books, part of the maturation process seems to involve letting go or getting rid of so-called childish things, including beloved picture books. Yet there’s also a time when one rediscovers them. For some, that time is when they become parents. For me, that time was when I became a teacher. Below are listed ten picture books featuring animals that I’ve enjoyed either appreciating for the first time as an adult or else purchasing simply due to a sentimental attachment.
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: After seeing a plush toy of the lead characters, I sought out a brand new copy of this childhood favorite story of mine about a baby bird who goes in search of its mother. Kittens can’t help. Dogs can’t help. Hens and cows can’t help. Just when the baby bird is most desperate, his mother reappears with food. My own mom having died when I was young, this story has never failed to resonate with me.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: How was this book published in 1969 and yet I only heard of it as a teacher? When working with students, seems I never stopped hearing about this book whose pages showed apples, pears, plums, strawberries, oranges with real holes. All these foods were being eaten by a caterpillar who one day built a cocoon, stayed in it for two weeks, and then nibbled his way out, and…. was a butterfly!
Petunia by Roger Duvoisin: For a few years I belonged to a book club that featured picture book classics. Among them was Petunia, featuring a silly goose who finds a book. Deciding that if she owns a book she must be wise, Petunia dispenses hilariously mistaken advice to the other farmyard animals. Although as a teacher I appreciate stories that encourage reading, Petunia made it to my purchase cart not because of its message but because I had a parent who took time to read to me as a child.
Corduroy by Don Freeman: Some classics I encountered first as a television show, proving that television can turn kids onto books. I own the 40th anniversary edition of a tale about a bear in search of a home and a girl in search of a friend. For writers like me, I wish all books included similar extras: original sketches, early draft of the Corduroy manuscript, and letters between Don Freeman and his publisher.
Five O’Clock Charlie by Marguerite Henry: Of all the books mentioned in this round-up, Five O’Clock Charlie is the only one to have been part of my collection since childhood. That’s because I have almost all of Marguerite Henry’s books. Being about an aging colt who isn’t quite ready for retirement, this picture book is probably more relevant to me as I approach my fifties than when I first read it in my childhood.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey: Every time I see ducks or geese in town, I think of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. This pair of mallards decide to raise their family on an island in the lagoon in Boston Public Garden, a park in the center of Boston. In the small Midwest city where my husband and I, we have seen turkey near parks and geese near office stores.
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik: My husband and I often frequent local library book sales. At one such sale, I eagerly picked up a copy of this collection of stories about a small, curious grizzly bear cub who lives in the forest with his family and friends. What appealed so much to me about Little Bear? Maybe it’s the loving family relationship or perhaps it’s the playful and imaginative nature of the characters. At any rate, I remember this I Can Read book as being one of the last that I passed onto younger cousins.
If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff: I first discovered this rhythmic and circular tale while teaching students with intellectual disabilities. My students and I would recreate our own version of the simple plot that if a hungry little mouse shows up on your doorstep, you might want to give him a cookie. And if you give him a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he’s going to ask for a straw….
Anatole by Eve Titus: During my early teaching years while seeking out picture books, I paid special attention to those with anniversary editions. To me, this meant they had passed the test of time. It also meant that if I hadn’t already, it was probably about time for me to discover them. This is how Anatole, a story of a mouse from France came into my possession. One day, while commuting by bicycle to forage for food, Anatole overhears some humans complaining about mice as villainous. Deeply aggrieved at the insult to his honor, Anatole resolves to do better. To do so, he goes to work in a French cheese factory as a taster and evaluator of the factory’s product.
My Season with Penguins by Sophie Webb: My favorite aquatic animal is the penguin. From trips to zoos, I have tons of photos and video footage of penguins. I also have a few books including this true Antarctic Journal, which I brought to serve as a model for my own writing of animal stories. Sophie Webb gives readers a frank firsthand account of what it is like to spend a season in a land not yet affected by people, instead populated for centuries by Adélie penguins.
Two not listed above are Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter and Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. The former inspired me not only to read more about the author herself and the animals she featured, but also to write my own pet tales.
What are your favorite animal picture books? What are some you still wish to read?