Life by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
This picture book is a celebration of life with lush illustrations featuring the natural world and wildlife. It begins by saying that life begins small (spreads of a seedling and a baby elephant), then it grows (spreads of the elephant pack and a multitude of animals, from the jungle to the sea to the Arctic). The book points out that all animals love life, and we each have our favorite part (hawks love sky, snakes love grass, etc.).
Even when life has difficulties (expressed by a spread of a small bird trying to fly through a savage storm), the book reminds us of our purpose here – both to love (spreads of a dog and a cat) and to protect (spreads of a gorilla and a polar bear). Young children may not fully understand the message of the book, which also addresses despair and encourages us to look to nature to find hope, but the message is lovely and the illustrations in the book are soft and muted and beautiful to look at. A book adults as well as children can appreciate.
Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Marc Boutavant
This is a fun beginning chapter book that is the first of a new series by Patricia MacLachlan, who often includes animals in her books. Reminiscent of Henry and Mudge, this book is about a little girl named Nicky and her new companion, Barkus, a charming big brown dog. The book consists of five short chapters, each with a story about the pair that is narrated by Nicky. In the first chapter, Nicky’s uncle is traveling overseas, so he leaves his dog Barkus with Nicky and her parents. In succeeding chapters, Barkus goes to school with Nicky, has a birthday party with the neighboring dogs, rescues a kitten whom the family adopts, and spends a night camping with Nicky and the new kitten. The stories are full of energy, showing us the joy and exuberance of children and dogs, with vibrant, happy illustrations.
The Lost Kitten by Lee and illustrated by Komako Sakai
This is a heart-felt picture book about a family adopting a needy kitten, translated from the original Japanese. Hina and her mother find a kitten on their doorstep. The mother cat looks on, with two other kittens by her side. This kitten is small and weak – maybe that is why the mother is asking people to care for it instead of caring for the kitten herself like her two other kittens. At first, Hina doesn’t want the kitten: it isn’t cute, it is sickly. But her mother takes in the kitten and begins to care for it, showing Hina how it is done. Hina’s mother is gentle and compassionate and teaches her daughter a valuable lesson about kindness and opening your heart. When Hina is left for a time with the kitten while her mother is out and her grandmother is napping, she panics when she can’t find the kitten. She searches all over for it, eventually finding it curled up asleep on a sweater in the closet. Hina has come to care for the kitten, whom she names Sleepy. The book is beautifully illustrated with soft colored pencil and paint. I especially like the message the book conveys about loving those who have special needs or who aren’t the most beautiful. Hina seems cold-hearted at first, not wanting the kitten because it may be sick and isn’t as cute as others, but she grows to love the kitten.
Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
A gentle and sweet picture book about friendship and feeling comfortable with yourself. Ethel is a black and white cat who is very set in her ways. When Ethel’s daily routine gets shaken up, she learns that sometimes change is a good thing. She spends her days sitting on the porch looking out on her yard, chasing some bugs, and rolling on her favorite spot on the sidewalk. But one day, Ethel discovers that she is now blue after rolling in sidewalk chalk. This makes her feel self-conscious and she retreats indoors until Fluffy, a white cat, appears at her window pink, having also rolled in chalk, and the two begin spending their days together. Ethel is now okay with being black and white or maybe some days other colors. The final spreads feature Ethel and Fluffy in vibrant rainbow colors on the sidewalk and then sitting in a tree watching a magnificent sunset. Charming and whimsical illustrations add to the delight of the story.
Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Lori Nichols
This is a fun bedtime book set on a farm with an ending that makes the book. Pig is ready for bed, but when he lays down in his sty, he finds Cow already there. “Go sleep in your own bed!” Pig tells Cow. Cow “clompety-stomps” to her stall, where she finds Hen in her bed and so on and so on until Dog tells Cat, “Go sleep in your own bed!” When Cat settles down on the porch, the little girl who lives in the farmhouse comes out and picks up Cat and they snuggle down to sleep in the girl’s bed, making for a sweet and satisfying ending. Young children will enjoy the repetition and onomatopoeia and anticipating which animal they will next find in the wrong bed.
The Road Home by Katie Cotton and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby
This is a beautiful picture book in which a songbird, mouse, wolf, and rabbit mother and her offspring prepare for winter – gathering food and finding a home. The book conveys the harshness of nature and animals’ struggle to survive amidst such threats as weather and predators. But it is told with such lyrical language and soft, muted, truly lovely watercolor illustrations that it is not frightening as much as awe-inspiring. The book is told in rhyming verse and each page includes the refrain “this road is hard, this road is long, this road that leads us home” until the end, in which mother and child safely reach their destination, showing that home is wherever parent and child are together. A quiet, reflective read.
Hattie & Hudson by Chris Van Dusen
In this picture book, a girl named Hattie is at a lake house with her parents. She enjoys canoeing on the lake. One day, she is so content she sings a song. This songs moves a huge, green creature deep underwater and he comes up to the surface. Hattie is not afraid of the creature, who has kind eyes and is gentle. She names him Hudson. But others on the lake are frightened by him and the townspeople hold an emergency meeting on how to rid the lake of the beast. Hattie knows she needs to come up with a plan to save Hudson. With his cooperation, they devise a plan and put it in motion the next day. The plans works and the town accepts Hudson. Visitors come from near and far to see him and all ends well. This is a sweet story about acceptance and friendship and not judging others superficially. Hattie is an admirable character – bravely standing up for Hudson in spite of opposition.
I love the watercolor illustrations – they are very detailed and bright and colorful, evoking the beauty of the lake and surrounding natural landscape. Hudson has kind eyes and beautiful, luminous skin to reflect his nature.