Beauty comes in all sizes, shapes, numbers of legs and fur colors. The animals touted in these new picture books can seem unloved at times but are actually full of tremendous qualities and character.

Tony

By Ed Galing; illustrated by Erin E. Stead; A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press; 30 pages; $16.99

Tony, a little gem of a book, is introduced with the line “Tony was all white, large, sturdy, with wide gentle eyes and a ton of love.”

Tony was a wonderful horse with a young driver named Tom, and they would set out very early in the morning to pull a wagon and deliver milk, butter and eggs. Tony’s eyes would glow when Tom patted him, and he would wait patiently during deliveries.

The narrator/customer outwardly appreciates the hardworking horse when he receives his deliveries, notes that he “wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,” gives him a pat and tells him what a wonderful, kind horse he is.

Young readers will enjoy the satisfactory ending of the late Ed Galing’s ode to a special workhorse, when it’s pretty clear Tony hears the compliment and does a little dance as he walks away.

A truly calm reminder to love and admire animals, and of the power of complements, Galing’s poem is made ethereal and dreamlike with Erin E. Stead’s vintage pencil sketches. This book is certainly special and calming in a time when many are overly vivid and loud.

Blue Ethel

By Jennifer Black Reinhardt; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 32 pages; $17.99

Ethel is an old, fat black-and-white cat that’s stuck in her ways. Every day, she goes outside to survey the land, monitor the weather and roll around on her favorite sidewalk square. One day, though, Ethel rolls in a child’s chalk artwork on the sidewalk and turns streaky blue, and her friends whisper things like “Cerulean!” “How odd!” and “Ethel’s blue!” which makes her feel blue, naturally.

But then, while peering out the window wallowing, she notices her slim, usually white friend, Fluffy, who’s now pink. The pair surveys the land and monitors the weather together, and rolls and rolls and rolls all over the sidewalk square to become colorful.

Blue Ethel is a sweet tale of friendship and openness with the lesson that “you’re never too old to change.” Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s low-key book becomes more alive as it goes on, until the gorgeous end pages of the cats admiring a sky as colorful as a vivid rainbow.

Escargot

By Dashka Slater; pictures by Sydney Hanson; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 32 pages; $16.99

In Escargot, charming snail Escargot acknowledges that “Nobody ever says their favorite animal is the snail,” notices there are no snail cookies in a French bakery (they’re shaped like dogs and goats and hippos) and says her trails aren’t slimy but shimmery. She charmingly petitions for favorite-animal status and invites readers to join her as she travels to a “beautiful salad, with croutons and a light vinaigrette.”

Escargot contradicts those who think snails are shy, as she makes a fierce face to scare a carrot away from the salad. For those who think snails are too slow to be favorite-animal status, she pulls turtle tricks and says she’s as fast as the wind itself while winning the race to the salad. Finally, a child rescues the plucky, funny snail from the salad, and it’s Escargot who calls him “Magnifique” even without a shimmery trail or a fierce face.

With her wide eyes, red scarf, striped French sweater and beret, Escargot is 100-percent adorable and will certainly make readers fall in love with her, and hopefully all snails. She’s a keeper. Forget “the baboon or the koala or the earwig.”

Something’s Fishy

By Kevin McCloskey; Toon Books; 36 pages; $12.95

Goldfish aren’t always the most valued pets. But long ago in Europe, there were very few, and they were given as special gifts. Goldfish can remember faces, live up to 25 years and grow “like the size of this book, almost” in a big aquarium. Something’s Fishy author Kevin McCloskey notes that the goldfish in his home’s outdoor pond still live, 20 years after coming home from fairs.

McCloskey begins his book with a graphic book/cartoon layout of an alphabet of exotic fish, and he tells basic facts about all kinds of fish, some with no scales, to a Fish School with kids and pets as students. The fun fish facts are fascinating.

McCloskey, also the artist, does a fine job of decorating Something’s Fishy in several genres, science fish lesson, ancient history goldfish tale and hilariously droll fish alphabet. This one’s a “Giggle and Learn” release, level one for brand-new readers.

— 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.

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