We’ve read approximately 5.2 million kids’ animal books with Boy Detective in the last six or so years. These are some of our favorites. Some you’ve possibly not heard about, some that are pretty popular, and even some for the bittiest of kids.
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. What better way to describe this than with the text inside the front cover? “A fish has stolen a hat. And he’ll probably get away with it. Probably.” This is so simple and funny, and Boy Detective LOVED being able to anticipate what was going to happen next from the fish’s mistaken beliefs, once he caught on to the pattern. Klassen is a gem in the world of children’s books.
The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, pictures by Shelley Jackson. She’s the queen of chicken-chasing all right. Only one chicken can escape her. But she’s going to figure out how to catch that Miss Hen! Unless her careful surveillance reveals previously unknown information that requires a change of plans, of course. I can’t decide what I like most about this book. The facial expressions of the main character? The collage-style art, especially her skirt with the big button? Or the number of times you turn the page and get a giant SQUAWK from a chicken? Boy Detective was skeptical about this one but he ended up loving it. Several times in the next few days he’d start laughing about something he was remembering from it.
Pssst! by Adam Rex. What Adam Rex can do with fonts blows my mind. Anyone with any interest in graphic design should read this book immediately. Also, this a really good story! A girl’s trip to the zoo is continually interrupted by animals asking if she’ll procure items for them on the sly. She agrees, to be helpful, because they all have such reasonable explanations of why they need flashlights, trash cans, bicycle helmets… or do they? I’ve rarely seen my husband laugh so much at a kids’ book.
Millie in the Snow by Alexander Steffensmeier. A simple little story that’s funny because of all the visual details, including a turnip Advent Calendar, a bright red monster tongue that’s not what it appears to be, and many accidentally repurposed Christmas presents. Millie the mail cow has only one delivery left to make before Christmas. To her own farm! And of course she knows just where that is. Maybe. It’s just over there, right? Right?
Notably, this is one of the only children’s picture books I’ve read that identifies a woman as a farmer instead of a farmer’s wife. Maybe women get to be farmers as long as they’re single, and then they get demoted? Even though I’m pretty sure that on most family farms, everyone who lives there is doing at least some farming…? Anyway.
Mrs. Brown Went to Town by Wong Herbert Yee. (This image of the cover looks a little garish, but trust me on this one.) I have been tired before. I have been so tired, I have fallen asleep in strange places and odd positions. But I have never been so tired that I could crawl into my bed without noticing that a cow, two pigs, three ducks, and a yak were crashed there after spending the day in my house. I can only assume that Mrs. Brown was still heavily medicated when she was released from the hospital on the day this story begins. I’m a little concerned about the quality of healthcare she receives in this town.
That said, this book is a riot. The farm animals vote to move into Mrs. Brown’s house – all but the mouse, who doesn’t want any part of this terrible idea. Boy Detective was both appalled and delighted by what the animals get up to unsupervised. Yee is one of our favorite authors of children’s picture books. I particularly love how skilled he is with language. He never forces a rhyme, and he’s willing to let things almost-rhyme when it suits the story. That’s appreciate by this mom who’s read too many contorted verses in her eight-year mothering career.
What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? Story by Richard Van Camp, pictures by George Littlechild. Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib nation from the Northwest Territories of Canada, and Littlechild is from the Plains Cree nation. They have created SUCH a fun book. You absolutely must read it out loud as though this kid is talking to you, filling you in on his world and what’s going on inside his head while he interviews his friends and family. The paintings are intensely colorful and distinctive. There’s a rich conversation to be had just about the art style, let alone the content. Love it!
Lion vs. Rabbit by Alex Latimer. We love Latimer’s art and his sense of humor, and this a great little tale about how strategy can be just as important as brawn in solving a problem. Who can stop Lion from bullying all the other animals? Tiger, bear, and moose all failed. Now it’s up to a specialist: Rabbit. Weighing in at only 4 pounds to Lion’s 1,770, it’s tough to see how Rabbit will prevail. As an adult, I didn’t even get what was happening completely until the end, which is a pretty good trick to pull off in a children’s picture book!
Five Little Monkeys With Nothing To Do by Eileen Christelow. Of Christelow’s monkey books, this outshines the rest. This is one of those children’s books where the grownup reading it is empathizing with the grownup characters in the story, and a young child is probably identifying with the children, so each group is getting a very different take on the story, and that’s just fine. But as Boy Detective got older, he got more of the joke, how the little monkeys are totally baffled by how the once-clean house is now a disaster area, and how the mom and grandma are trying not to laugh.
Elmer by David McKee. I’m not always a fan of classic children’s books, or “life lesson” books, but this 1968 book is a keeper. It’s a fable about being different. It’s also just a good, interesting story. Elmer is patchwork and not grey like the other elephants, and although he’s popular, he’s not entirely convinced it’s for the right reasons. A little… experiment is enough to reassure him about his place in the community, though. Cute and funny.
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, with art by Betsy Lewin. I almost didn’t include this because I’m sure everyone knows it, but just in case! Classic story of farm animals outwitting the outraged farmer, really funny stuff. Giggle Giggle Quack is also good, but beyond that in her catalog your mileage may vary.
Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. I rarely go looking for children’s picture books that convey deep life lessons. I certainly don’t expect to find them in books with purple rhinos on the cover. But wow, this one packs a punch. It’s a silly story about Daisy’s reaction when the aforementioned purple rhinoceros shows up in her house. It’s also a cautionary tale about what happens to families when adults don’t listen to children. If I were insecure about my relationship with my kid, I might feel quite threatened by it. Since I’m not, I can just take it as a friendly reminder to be more present when I can. To Daisy’s parents’ credit, when they do get the wake-up call, they respond quickly and with love. So that’s a good demonstration that even when things get off track in relationships, it’s worth making the effort to get things back on track. Both Kemp and Ogilvie do an amazing job here. Kemp’s writing is funny and well-crafted. Ogilvie’s drawings are so expressive and her colors choices are bold and gorgeous. I need to find more of their books!
These are the animal books for bitty kids. Normally I only have about one board book in a post, but there are so many animal books that quite a few won my heart.
Gossie and Gertie by Olivier Dunrea. There are quite a few books by Dunrea about Gossie and her friends, and if you like the art style you won’t hate the others. But Gossie and Gertie is the one that’s a bit more complex and even entertained me. Maybe more than it should have, since I was thinking about what some of the adults in the world could learn from this story! The dynamic between the two ducks is timeless and really funny while being simple enough to enjoy with a young child.
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, with illustrations by Judy Horacek. We got this in board book form but I’ve seen a regular picture book format at the library. This is one of those “simple words, detailed art” type books that I really liked because there was so much for me to look at and so many jokes in the illustrations of the sheep.
Cowboy Bunnies by Christine Loomis, with pictures by Ora Eitan. The art style in this book really struck me. Eitan painted on wood, and for a book focused on ranching, it’s a perfect fit. It’s sweet and ends quietly, a great little book for bedtime. There are a lot of kids’ books about farms, but not many about ranches, so I thought this was a nice contribution.
And that’s the list! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!