Animals need lots of appreciation; kids are the future stewards of the environment and its living things, so it's up to them to care. These new books are wondrous and appealing.

New Shoes

By Sara Varon; First Second/Macmillan; 204 pages; $17.99

Graphic- or comic-style books are all the rage. New Shoes, from Sendak Fellowship recipient Sara Varon, gives friendly human personalities to a slew of South American jungle animals, from the capybara, to the jaguar, to the three-toed sloth.

New Shoes introduces donkey Francis, a shoemaker who must leave his village for the first time and journey into the jungle to find wild tiger grass. While Francis is searching (to make a special pair of shoes for the queen of calypso, Miss Manatee), he meets a hilarious, hard-working group of animals eager to assist. They teach him about cashew trees and star apples and exotic birds like the Guianan cock-of-the-rock.

Young readers will laugh when Francis learns to swim from the cabybara, which offer tips such as: “Stomach side down! Kick! Head Up!” as they clap and cheer. It’s all worth it in the end, as Francis learns manatees don’t have feet, and he and the other animals work together to come up with a scooter and water bucket that enables Miss Manatee to perform.

Truly cool, humorous and full of jungle animal facts, New Shoes also includes some of Varon’s lovely reference photos of native animals, fruit and trees. The colorful book’s message of not being afraid to venture out into the world comes across in fun, exotic spades.

Toddlers who love jungle animals will enjoy Night Night, Jungle by Amy Parker and published by Tommy Nelson, a vividly colorful, rhyming introduction to parrots and monkeys and chameleons and lemurs, all happy and getting ready for bed.

All the Animals Where I Live

By Philip C. Stead; Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press; 44 pages; $18.99

A meditation on the creatures that shape our lives, All the Animals Where I Live is a lovely, sweet picture book that explains author Philip C. Stead’s love of animals, which he got from his grandmother because of a teddy bear, a quilt with chickens and the gentle way she spoke to animals.

These days, Stead pays homage to his dog, Wednesday, who sits by his bird feeder and watches the cranes, a hot toad and buzzing dragonflies in the summer. Wednesday watches as a turtle happily shuffles away after an eagle drops him, and he barks at a visiting coyote.

Stead’s calm book features simple pencil drawings, which evoke a subtle gorgeousness in nature and a dog’s anticipation of fall, when the deer come to eat apples and the chipmunks make their home in a hollow stump. Soon there’s nothing but snow, a white owl and the smell of maple syrup, just like Grandma’s, and Wednesday makes his way onto the quilt.

Simply a beautiful way to calm down and appreciate neighborhood animals, Caldecott Medal winner Stead’s book is a rare gem.

If I Had a Horse

By Gianna Marino; Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press; 32 pages; $17.99

An ethereal appreciation of a child’s love for a horse and the understanding, boundaries and bravery that come with knowing a horse, Gianna Marino’s picture book, If I Had a Horse, is dreamy. Watercolor in purples and oranges, teals and reds, the flowing illustrations feature a grand horse and a genderless child, who tries hard to tame their imaginary friend but then resolves to explore new places “and run wild with new friends.”

The sophomore debut from Marino is empowering, with an appreciative lesson about respecting animals and taking on their bravery. The journey from shy child and horse to “together ... we could do anything” is full of possibilities.

Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet are Neat

By Laurie Ellen Angus; Dawn Publications; 32 pages; $8.95

Bird feet are really neat, as Laurie Ellen Angus proves in Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet are Neat with bold, lively paper-collage illustrations of cardinals perching to pick some berries, woodpeckers climbing to peck for grubs and owls grabbing mice to feed their owlets. The diverse, rounded, friendly birds hop, scratch and hitch their way across the pages, as young children learn about the many way birds make their living and find their food.

Angus was inspired to write this bird-appreciation book after spotting a brilliantly colored red-bellied woodpecker landing repeatedly on her bird feeder’s horizontal bar to get some grub.

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.