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Animal Appreciation Tales for Youngsters

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Kids who are knowledgeable about animals also tend to have an affinity for them and a passion for being kind to the environment. These new picture books introduce creatures many children may not know, but will certainly learn to love.

"Emu" by Claire Saxby; illustrated by Graham Byrne; Candlewick Press; 28 pages; $16.99.

Most notable about the emu is that the male is the one responsible for protecting the chicks. In the large, goofy-looking bird's Australian world, it's Dad who sits on the nest guarding granite-green eggs. He also raises the fledglings, because Mom takes off once she lays them. Claire Saxby does a careful job clearly explaining this unique father's duties, including how male emus lower their metabolism so they can stay on their nests for long periods.

With larger text as the intriguing main body of the book, Saxby also adds smaller sidebars with more detailed emu facts about how the birds are flightless and very desired by other animals.

Graham Byrne's cool, deserty, sketchy illustrations are flowing and active, and "Emu" is a fascinating look at a truly unique creature.

Also penned by Saxby and illustrated by Byrne, and about another Australian animal, is "Big Red Kangaroo" (24 pages, $16.99, Candlewick). As an all-encompassing, action-packed chronicle about red kangaroos, and how and why they "box," Saxby's beautiful book proves this personable animal should certainly always live in wide, open spaces.

"Bilby, Secrets of an Australian Marsupial," by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson (24 pages, $16.99, Candlewick), rounds out our selection of creatures from Down Under. Many kids have not heard of the bilby, but quickly will fall in love with the big-eared burrow-nestling explorer, now endangered in Australia.

"Hungry Coyote" by Cheryl Blackford; illustrations by Laurie Caple; Minnesota Historical Society Press; 32 pages; $16.95.

This coyote-appreciation book comes at just the right time for my neighborhood, as many a pet cat has suffered the sad fate of coyote bait.

The fact is, though, that humans have encroached upon the coyote's home, and he now has to forage for food closer to humans' habitats. In Cheryl Blackford's thoughtful, gorgeous picture book, a hungry coyote hunts near a lake for voles, rabbits, snakes and geese. He also looks for garden vegetables and picnic leftovers.

Laurie Caple's lush, lifelike illustrations help readers imagine a year in the life of an urban coyote, who hunts for prey near a city park and has loud nighttime conversations with his mate and pups. Humans need not worry, however. Coyotes rarely bite people.

"Hippos Are Huge" by Jonathan London; illustrated by Matthew Trueman; Candlewick Press; 29 pages; $16.99.

With tons of whimsical personality and even humor, Jonathan London introduces hippos in a big, big way. His large, bold text varies in size, with words like "ROAAAAR!" and "Watch out!" appearing much larger. Young children will learn that hippos are the deadliest creatures, more so than lions and crocodiles. But they're not all bad, and they have adorable babies. Matthew Trueman hilariously shows one passing gas underwater.

KIDBITS

A few other cool animal books include "Orangutanka" by Margarita Engle and Renee Kurilla (Henry Holt), a poetic tale about silly orangutans; "Sand Swimmers" by Narelle Oliver (Candlewick), subtitled "The Secret Life of Australia's Desert Wilderness"; and "Daylight Starlight Wildlife" by Wendell Minor (Nancy Paulsen Books), a book for preschoolers that reveals the variety of animals that surround us when we are awake and sleeping.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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