What are your favorite animal-friendly, beautifully-illustrated kid's books?

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Tumford the Terrible
My kids, nearly two and four, love to be read to and I love to read to them as long as the books are lyrically written and creatively illustrated — and they don't encourage harming animals (original Curious George, anyone?), or feature name-calling or cranky parents (too many to list).

Extra points go to books with female main characters, especially those that break gender stereotypes (no Skippy Jon Jones, please), because the overwhelming majority of children's book characters are male.

Some of our current favorites are City Dog, Country Frog, Tumford the Terrible, Bear Snores on, and Love is You & Me. These are all delightful enough for me and my kids both that I don't mind reading them again and again, but I want more.

Offbeat Families readers, what are your favorites? — Aly

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  1. Obviously, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

    Finding politically correct books can be trickier than you'd think. Recently, I was asked to attend Dr. Seuss day at the local elementary school. I grabbed a book at random that I hadn't read before (Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose). It was highly entertaining and the kids loved it, but then I had an "Uh oh" moment when I get toward the end and (SPOLER ALERT) hunters show up to try to shoot the moose! And in the end, the moose gets way but his woodland friends end up stuffed! I mean, this doesn't bother ME because I come from a hunting family and I'm married to a Maine game warden….but I immediately became anxious that there might be sensitive kids in the crowd. Oh well, they still seemed to enjoy it, and it's not like hunting is NOT a reality in Maine…but still.

    1 agrees
  2. My youngest got Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill and Charles Fuge as a Christmas gift one year. It's about a little baby wombat (no gender specified), and I was so charmed by the premise and the illustrations. My girls are a bit too big for it now, I guess, but it's so sweet.

    EDIT: Also, I like the Mouse and Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee.

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    • Charles Fuge has another one called I know a rhino where the main character is a girl, also very fun to read.

      The paper bag princess by Robert munsch is another classic that I read as a kid & holds up beautifully for this next generation.

      Also–I know the original Q was about books but angelina ballerina is a great tv show with lots of great female characters & my 3 y.o. son loves it. Its based on the books which I also read as a kid. Unfortunately the illustrations in the books seem a little creepy to me now so I haven't encouraged the book version, but maybe that's just me.

      1 agrees
  3. This is a great topic!!

    Some of my faves for babies & toddlers:
    Everywhere Babies (love this one, shows varied families, rhymes, adorable)
    Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by mem fox (also rhymes & fun to read)
    Time for Bed (also mem fox I think)
    Little Chicken's Big Day by Davis & Davis
    The House in the Night
    Wynkyn, Blynkyn and Nod (the edition I have is about a girl but w, b & n seem to be boys. Still fun to read.)
    The Apple Pie That Papa Baked

    These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Can't wait to hear what others suggest!!

  4. Lois Ehlert's books have wonderful illustrations. Some of her animal books…Crocodile Smile, Fish Eyes (a favorite), Feathers for Lunch (also a favorite), RRRalph, Lots of Spots, Mole's Hill, Mice, and Top Cat. oh, also Color Zoo is cute.
    Not animal related, but I LOVE her Snowballs and Hands (about growing up to be an artist).

  5. Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
    A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
    The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
    This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

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    • I just picked up This is Not my Hat at random while looking for a gift for my niece. My husband and I laughed so hard we had to buy it! For ourselves!

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  6. Six-Dinner Sid! Inga Moore. There's also a sequel, but I've never read that

    There is actually a decent message behind this greedy kitty story. (I say story, it's about 20 pages with 40 sentences, so it could be a bit young for your kids). Basically the two main themes are eating dinners a day is bad (!) and that being friendly is better than being isolated. There's no real bad guys in it and the expressions on the cats face in the illustrations are hilarious and very realistic

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Six-Dinner-Sid-Inga-Moore/dp/0340894113/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363975375&sr=8-1

    • Six-Dinner Sid is pretty much my favorite polyamory book πŸ™‚ I actually read it as saying that it's fine to have 6 families and 6 dinners as long as everyone involved knows and agrees.

  7. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is one of my all-time favorite books. I've given at least a dozen copies at baby showers. Such a great message about loving yourself, even if you stand out from the crowd. I love all of his books.

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  8. It's hard to find, but if you are looking for animals and positive female characters, then definitely look for Minou by Mindy Bingham. It's the story of a female cat who realizes that she has no one to look after her, and so must learn to look after herself. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the message is fantastic.

    The other author I absolutely love is Jim Arnosky. He writes beautiful, poetic and factually accurate stories about animals. He doesn't anthropomorphize or add fantasy elements, just lets the wonder of nature speak for itself. Turtle In the Sea is my favorite. Search for him on Amazon, or anywhere. There are a good amount of his books in my local small library too.

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  9. Anything by Mo Willems. He's got pigeons, ducklings, naked mole rats, knuffle bunnies, puppies, elephants and piggies and little girls named Trixie all learning lessons without being knocked over the head with morality and the added bonus that they are simple and hilarious. The knufflebunny books are particularly lovely to look at too, with a mix of cartoon and real photo illustrations. His website has some funny games on it too: http://www.mowillems.com

    2 agree
    • Love all of Mo Willems! He's a big hit with my first grade class. The Elephant and Pig books are always favorites.

  10. The Shy Little Kitten!

    I just bought a shiny new copy the other day for my bun-in-the-oven and read it to him or her :o)

  11. I loved "The Ice Cream Store" by Dennis Lee when I was a child, and many kids I've babysat have liked it too. It's a bunch of short, silly and sweet poems, and features good illustrations of kids from around the world.

  12. My favorite animal centered kids books are
    I am a Bunny by Ole Risom
    http://www.amazon.com/Am-Bunny-Golden-Sturdy-Book/dp/0375827781/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363987323&sr=8-1&keywords=i+am+a+bunny

    Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus
    http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Late-Bloomer-Robert-Kraus/dp/0812453832/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363987386&sr=1-1&keywords=leo+the+late+bloomer

    The Big hungry Bear, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Little Mouse by Don Wood
    http://www.amazon.com/Little-Mouse-Ripe-Strawberry-Hungry/dp/0859530124/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363987502&sr=1-1&keywords=big+hungry+bear

    As the parent of a toddler, I also enjoy how these books engross by little one with the illustrations, but have just short passages of language on each page. It works well for the attention span of a toddler or preschooler.

    2 agree
    • Oh, The Big Hungry Bear! I loved that book as a little one (it was published the year I was born) and my now 5-year-old son has loved it since infancy as well. Last year for Halloween, we went as the Big Hungry Bear, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Little Mouse. Best. Costumes. EVER.

  13. I love love love reading almost all of Julia Donaldson's books. Sharing a Shell, Tiddler, The Snail and The Whale, Room on the broom and of course there's the Gruffalo books!

  14. No Matter What is a sweet story that is gender neutral. It features Large and Small foxes and is about loving each other no matter what, even if Small is feeling "grim and grumpy" or turns into a crocodile!

    Let's Play In The Snow is similar, featuring Large Nutbrown Hare and Small Nutbrown Hare.

    Fletcher the fox series, like Fletcher and the Falling leaves, is really simply drawn, but has a really sweet quality to it.

    Richard Scarry has some classic animal stories, but they tend to follow gender lines.

  15. I love using the Llama Llama books with my students (still have about a month left til I have a little one to read to at home!). The main character is a young child llama and he struggles with many of the fears, anxieties, and feelings that young children go through. His mother is always loving and understanding, and they work together to help Llama find his way out of his problems. Excellent books, in my opinion. Under the Moon was one I remember reading with my mother over and over again. The pictures are amazing; I still like to just stare at that book. I'm sorry if anyone's already said this and I missed it, but you can't skip the Olivia books if you want a strong female lead.

    My last bit of advice is go into your local comic shop. Often times they have graphic novels about all sorts of things geared to children and written by local authors. I found some serious treasures for my library that way.

    1 agrees
  16. Someday By Alison McPhee – it has the same feel as I Will Love You Forever but the main character is a fiery curly haired girl.

    Bob and Otto By Robert Bruel – beautiful story of friendship between a caterpillar and an earthworm. It also has a little science lesson.

    The Gruffalo by Julie Donaldson – the story follows a brave mouse through the forest, it is written in rhyme and has a happy ending.

  17. Soooooo many amazing books!

    If you love Karma Wilson's Bear Snores On, there is a whole series with Bear: Bear Feels Scared, Bear Wants More, Bear's New Friend, Bear Says Thanks, and Bear Feels Sick, among other things.

    Another favorite bear book series is Maureen Wright's series which starts with Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep!.

    A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Rebecca Stead is lovely and won a Caldecott a few years ago.

    Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton is amazing, especially if you read George's voice similarly to Dug's voice from Up. Chris Haughton also has a lovely book called Little Owl Lost.

    Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman is excellent and hilarious πŸ™‚

    Anything by Denise Fleming is lovely, and if you love beautiful animal illustrations, you should make friends with all of the books by Jan Brett, Jim Arnosky, John Butler, Nancy Tafuri, and Graeme Base.

    Seriously though, everyone, please ask your local children's librarian for recommendations! This where they love to read, they're experts on this stuff, and they LOVE talking about books!

  18. My baby is only 11 months old, but I love children's lit and I can't wait for when he's a little bigger and we get to read stories over and over…. and over πŸ™‚
    Here are some favorites:
    When the Sky is Like Lace by Elinor Lander Horowitz. Magical writing and beautiful illustrations.
    A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius By The Provensens. This is not plot driven, just lyrical, rhyming prose and lots of animals. I remember the first lines from when my mom read it to me as a child, "Alligator, beetle, porcupine, whale. Bobolink, panther, dragonfly, snail." I think it teaches reverence for animals.
    Little Bird, by Germano Zullo. The author is Swiss, I think, and the book is translated from French. There are very few words and bold illustrations–very different from books written for American children.
    I'm excited to check out the other recommendations from this thread.

  19. I remember Tight Times from my childhood, and its themes are apt for our current world. The boy gets a cat and calls it dog because they can't afford a dog, but comes to love the cat all the more…

  20. Some our favorites are the Olivia books by Ian Falconer (which are a bit gendered, with the mommy and daddy in fairly typical roles) and Frederick by Leo Lionni. (Frederick does have a male lead, but I find the pro-art message quite unusual and beautiful, kind of the opposite of the typical ant vs. grasshopper story.)

  21. Mine and my sister's favorite was Lester & Clyde, by James H. Reece. It has an eco-friendly message, and is clever and lyrical with great illustrations. I can probably still quote it today, at 27 πŸ™‚

  22. I totally recommend any of the "Mog the Forgetful Cat" series by Judith Kerr, and "The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark" by Jill Tomlinson. Both classics!

  23. A Fairy Went A-Marketing by Rose Fylemen is beautiful. It has lots of hidden things for kids to find on each page. Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger is also gorgeous. Both are on Amazon.

  24. This was one of my favourite books growing up. I wish I knew where it was. I might buy another copy, just so I can giggle my way through it again. It's all about archeologists from the year 4200 who find the lost continent of Usa. They discover a motel. It's great fun, and really makes you think about how completely wrong we could be in our interpretation of ancient cultures.
    http://www.amazon.com/Motel-Mysteries-David-Macaulay/dp/0395284252

  25. I have found that books I enjoy reading are often not the ones my kids want to hear! I second the Mo Willems love (fun to read and adored by my kids) and a couple of others that fit the bill:

    Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle

    If I Built a Car by Chris van Dusen

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