Animals have always been nature’s teachers and they remain so in these three pictures books focused on the animal kingdom. Children will laugh at the antics of the animal characters as they make friends and explore the world around them.


In The Black Rabbit, author-illustrator Philippa Leathers’ charming debut picture book, Rabbit discovers that a big black rabbit (which children will recognize as Rabbit’s shadow) is following him wherever he goes. Rabbit does everything he can think of to get rid of his shadow and finally succeeds when he runs into the deep, dark forest—where he meets Wolf, a foe much more frightening than the silent shadow. Chased out of the forest, Rabbit waits for Wolf to attack him, but opens his eyes to find that Wolf, too, is afraid of Rabbit’s shadow and has run away. The lively watercolor-and-ink illustrations highlight the contrast between the cartoon-like characters and the lurking figure of the shadow-turned-friend in this gently reassuring story about conquering our fears.


Children will learn nature’s power to bring joy when they meet the unhappy title character of Brett Helquist’s Grumpy Goat. Goat “had never had a single friend in his life” and doesn’t want one now that he is at Sunny Acres Farm. Helquist’s colorful oil-on-paper artwork captures the scowling goat, along with the happy expressions of his counterparts. When the cow and pigs come to say hello, Goat angrily chases them away. But he discovers a lone dandelion in the grass, and his frown begins to disappear. Goat finds happiness with his friends all summer long when a field of dandelions blooms, making Sunny Acres once again “the friendliest little farm in the country.” Inspired by an illustration he did for a book in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Helquist has expanded the story to teach children how important it is to literally stop and smell the flowers.


In My First Day, husband-and-wife team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page teach children about what animals experience in their first days of life, using Jenkins’ distinctive paper collage style to illustrate parent and baby. Wood Ducks, we learn, jump out of their nests and swim after their mothers on the day they are born, while Siberian tigers can’t even open their eyes. Giraffes are able to take their first steps just after birth, and Sifakas must ride on their mother’s backs for protection. Children will learn how unique each animal is, while parents may be prompted to reminisce about what their child’s first day on earth was like.

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