Marcia Strykowski

New Picture Books featuring Animal Characters

I requested three brand new books for review and realized in hindsight that all have animals as main characters. I love animal characters. And I love how animals in picture books can live through scary or rough situations while leaving a little bit of emotional distance from the small children enjoying their stories. Besides, don’t you think it’s sometimes easier to watch animals make mistakes?

I’d hoped to run this post a month ago, but due to life’s challenges it got delayed. But, yay, there’s still time to preorder a copy of this first selection! Did you know ordering books before their release date gives a big boost in sales rankings for the authors and illustrators who created them? A jump in preorders gives booksellers a heads-up that people are interested in the book which often makes those booksellers stock more copies, leading to more sales.

Books Aren’t For Eating was written by Carlie Sorosiak and illustrated by Manu Montoya. Published by Walker Books, its release date = September 20th! Illustrations were done in gouache and rendered digitally. Recommended for ages 4-8.

Leopold is a delightful goat filled with empathy for others. He’s wonderful in his cozy sweaters and love for books. Leopold especially enjoys finding just the right title for each of his customers.

SPOILER ALERT I was a little surprised when Leopold didn’t show his new friend what to do with the books and was even more surprised to find the newcomer did indeed already know how to read. BUT, perhaps Leopold’s method shows the power of gentle yet persistent suggestion rather than ordering someone to conform. It certainly works out and either way, what a lovely tribute to the wonder of books! The text and illustrations are a perfect match of talents.

Next up is The Bad Day.

The Bad Day was written and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. It was published in June 2022 by Templar Books. Illustrations were done in ink, pencil, and paint, and then finished digitally. This picture book is recommended for ages 3-7.

This is such a sweet book told in bouncy rhyme. The animal characters are all having a challenging day, whether it be a stuck beak, a twisted torso, a belly ache, or simply finding one’s self upside down. I love how they all work together to help a little mouse who’s having the worst day of all.

Nervous Nigel is next!

Nervous Nigel was written and illustrated by Bethany Christou and was published in July 2022 by Templar Books. Illustrations were done in gouache and colored pencil, along with digital painting. This picture book is recommended for ages 3-7.

Like the rest of his family, Nigel loves to swim. But he likes going at his own pace, not racing and competing. In fact the whole idea of racing makes him shake with terror. He doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his fears with his family, but in the end realizes they really just want him to be happy even if his goals aren’t the same as their own.

You may already know the term anthropomorphism which means human traits are given to non-human characters, whether it be an animal or an object. These kinds of characters have been telling their stories to children for hundreds of years. Animals could also be considered all inclusive (at least from a human viewpoint) although I agree 100% that every child should be able to find themselves represented in books in human form, too.

An interesting aspect of Books Aren’t For Eating is how all the characters are human, aside from the goats and a sweet little mouse (or two) that appears on most spreads. This mix of characters worked really well. Perhaps this is because the humans weren’t given dialogue, which got me to thinking. Personally, especially in middle grade books and up, I’ve never liked mixing humans and talking animals. For example, a realistic family with a talking dog or cat. I find it interesting that I’m so fond of picture books with animal characters as I recently had to stop reading a well-received novel about a somewhat realistic family with a pet monster, who talked. This might seem like no big deal, but I always finish books through to the end. I’ve also found myself rolling my eyes during several popular movies. Once the tagalong animal starts speaking, I’m done. BUT, books like Charlotte’s Web are definitely at the top of my list of favorite books. The difference once again is that Charlotte and Wilbur hold their conversations out of earshot of humans. They don’t converse with them.

What about you? Are you a fan of animal characters? Any favorites?

19 Comments

  1. Joyce Ray

    Lovely post, Marcia. Thanks for the reviews. I also like animal characters, with Charlotte and Wilbur at the top. Of course, Lionni’s Frederick, too! My new PB text features a beaver named Beulah. I thought I’d jump on Templar books, but no unsolicited submissions. But you gave me an idea which I will pursue! Thanks!

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    • A beaver named Beulah sounds interesting! Nice to hear from you, Joyce, best of luck with your new idea. 🙂

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      • Joyce Ray

        Thank you!

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  2. Cathy Ballou Mealey

    I love picture books with animal characters and agree 100% that a key to success is careful thinking about dialogue. I think that’s why I never cared for Stuart Little but loved Charlotte’s Web.

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  3. Hilary Margitich

    Great post, Marcia! I will have to read these, they look sweet.

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  4. HI Marcia, these are lovely sounding books. I also like picture books featuring animals and they do talk. My favourites as a child were the Beatrix Potter books. I am still very fond of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Peter Rabbit, and Tom Thumb and Hunka Munca, the two bad mice.

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    • I agree, those are all wonderful characters! And I love that they talk since there aren’t any humans getting in the way. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These books sound adorable! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  6. Great post, Marcia!

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  7. There is nothing better than animal books. When I explain to families and teachers why, I call it the ‘indirect method’. Children can easily identify with animal characters, it is a safe place for them to feel connected. They understand. Marcia, you write the best reviews. Thank you!

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    • Oh, I like that: indirect method. Your vast experience adds much to the conversation. Thanks so much, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely group of books and art here, Marcia! My favorites would still have to be the ones I grew up with, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and the gang!

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    • Yes, who could forget Winnie the Pooh and the gang?! I hadn’t thought of them, but I’m so glad you brought up this old favorite. If I remember correctly, Christopher Robin chatted with his animal friends, but what they said or did in return was most likely all in his imagination. Either way, the stories worked well and still do these many years later.

      Liked by 1 person

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