Featuring creatures with outsize personalities whose slightly subversive behavior is hugely hilarious, the picture books featured below are about defying expectations and bending the rules. Young readers, show the world who you really are!

Delightfully demonstrating the adage that there’s “nothing to fear but fear itself,” Jill Esbaum’s I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! is a triumphant tale of self-reliance that features, of all creatures, a cow. In the barnyard one day, Nadine boasts about her own bravery, impressing her cow comrades, Starla and Nanette. To test her courage, the two suggest a trek to the forest. Nadine is game, although the sight of the woods—overgrown, dark and dense—quickly sparks fear in her heart. Nadine discovers that she loves the woods, but when she becomes separated from her friends and night falls, she’s terrified. With a twitch of her own tail, she spooks herself and takes off at a mad trot. But she soon bumps into her buddies, who were hopelessly lost. Convinced that Nadine saved them, they celebrate her as a hero—not quite the truth, Nadine knows, but close enough! Esbaum’s rollicking, rhymed lines give this inspiring story momentum, while Gus Gordon’s clever mixed-media illustrations will draw the kiddos in for a closer look. Who knew that fear could be fun?

And the Best Comedy Award goes to . . . Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld for their screwball offering, This Is a Moose. Set in the woods during the shooting of a movie, this zany tale is the story of a star who eludes the typecasting trap and pursues new dreams. The lead, a moose with broad antlers and a defiant stance, has something to declare: He wants to be an astronaut! Clad as a spaceman, he steps before the camera, causing the director to call “cut”—the first of many such eruptions, as the star and his animal pals usurp the production. With gags aimed at grownups, showbiz jokes and a quintessential dictator-director, this is a brilliant send-up of cinema culture. On this set, a bear serves as gaffer, a chimp mans the camera, and a kangaroo wields the clapper. Lichtenheld is the real director here: His antic illustrations in ink, pencil and gouache make Moose a future classic. Readers will applaud this behind-the-scenes movie spoof.

Camp Rex, Molly Idle’s madcap sleepaway adventure, features the blue-eyed tykes from her previous book, Tea Rex. This time around, the proceedings are less civilized, as blonde and beaming Cordelia and her impish younger brother (with teddy bear in tow) rough it in the wilderness with four grinning, agreeable dinosaurs. No regulation troupe, this! Led by the granddaddy of them all, T. Rex, whose kit consists of a red neckerchief and a minuscule scout hat, the gang goes on a march and (after some inexpert attempts at pitching tents) sets up camp. When it comes time to gather round the fire, T. Rex tears a tree from the ground, attaches marshmallows to the roots and gets to roasting! Idle plays it straight in the text, adopting a serious, how-to-camp tone that stands in hilarious contrast to her genius drawings. This is an irresistible trip readers will want to go on again and again.


This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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