The children's-book author crowd always rises to social challenges in a timely and sensitive manner. With recent attacks on animal rights, picture books that celebrate animals help encourage young readers to treat all living things kindly. These new tales empower children to realize they can be caring stewards of the animal kingdom.
"The Boy and the Whale" by Mordicai Gerstein; Roaring Brook Press; 40 pages; $17.99.
"The Boy and the Whale" is inspired in part by a video of a whale's rescue from a fishing net and its thankful jumps for joy. Award-winning author Mordicai Gerstein places a high priority on humans' important relationships with the wild and their attempts to do impossible things.
Gerstein's lovely story introduces an island boy who is gravely concerned with a near-dead whale trapped in his family's fishing net, while his father only cares about the lost net. But the boy was once trapped in a net for a bit and knows the panicked feeling the whale is having. He heads out in his "panga," or boat, with his fishing knife, dives in the ocean and begins cutting the net away from the still whale. He keeps having to come up for air, and a gorgeous page spread depicts him gulping air above the whale, with turquoise sea all around. He sees a flicker of hope in the whale's eye, and that's enough to keep diving down and cutting net.
The boy's persistence and empathy give him great strength to finish the job and then profound joy when the freed whale finally dives, disappears and soars high in the sky. Was he dancing to thank the boy (yes!) or "just for the joy of being free" (yes!)?
Gorgeous ocean and whale illustrations make "The Boy and the Whale" as beautiful as it is inspiring. Kids will love how hard work and ingenuity can pay off in life-affirming ways, that impossible things can be achieved and that creatures value their lives as much as we value ours.
"Through the Zoo" by Jacob Grant; Feiwel & Friends; 32 pages; $16.99.
Goat gets tired of all the grubby little hands petting him in the petting zoo. He dreams of the big zoo and then escapes there. He tries living with a clingy koala and a nosy elephant but finds that even at the zoo, space isn't easy to find. He keeps searching for his own space and finds a lone tree, so can finally relax on his own. Eventually, though, Goat misses the little faces, little hands and little hugs, so he goes back to the petting zoo. But he knows he has a tree to visit when things feel crowded.
In this escapism fantasy that doesn't come true for most zoo animals, Jacob Grant brings awareness to young children about animals' needs to roam free, as well as the need we all have for affection. Illustrated with retro, appealing artwork, "Through the Zoo" is a lovely read.
"Bear and Chicken" by Jannie Ho; Running Press; 36 pages; $16.99.
Using colorful, very bold artwork and a fairy-tale-type story, Jannie Ho starts her fun picture book with Bear bringing in a frozen chicken to warm up in his house. Chicken is apprehensive when she sees Bear making soup. She helps him put in basil and carrots but then imagines the worst and runs out of his house. Bear finds her, and though she thinks she's going to be made into chicken soup, Bear invites her over for lunch, which just so happens to be a big pot of vegetable soup.
"Bear and Chicken" is an exciting story about believing the best, but it also gently reminds readers that vegetables can be delicious and that animals can be friends. Ho offers up Bear's Vegetable Soup recipe at the end and notes that black bears are mostly vegetarian.
"How to Find an Elephant" by Kate Banks; pictures by Boris Kulikov; Farrar, Straus Giroux; 32 pages; $16.99.
With supercool artwork reminiscent of "Where the Wild Things Are," this fantastical safari quest tells readers how to set out to search for elephants. The story begins: "Take out your binoculars and look for something large and gray. ... But don't expect to hear the elephant's footsteps, because elephants walk on tiptoe." The plucky boy journeys along through tropical watering holes and the rainy jungle, and even gathers bamboo shoots for the elephant to eat. He swings with a chimpanzee on a vine, asks an eagle to carry him over the treetops and eventually — unbeknownst to him — lands on the back of a sleeping elephant.
Elephants are smart, sensitive, amazing creatures that need our appreciation. "How to Find an Elephant" will help. This unique jungle journey is exotic and surprising and well-told.
To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.