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Culture Children's Books

Colorful creatures

Children’s Books

Colorful creatures

Four picture books about animals

Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Storyby Maria Gianferrari: In this nonfiction book about great horned owls, Gianferrari limits herself to the haiku form. She covers a season in the owl life cycle: from nest renovation (owls don’t make their own nests, they steal from others), through egg-laying and hatching, to fledging and independence. Jonathan Voss’ ink-and-watercolor illustrations capture the downy texture of the hatchlings and the fierceness of the mother rescuing a fledgling from a fox: “Talons nick; fox flees / Owlet jumps and pumps her wings / At last she is home!” The book ends with interesting owl facts and references for further study. (Ages 4-8)

In the Woods by David Elliott: This large-format book introduces in poetry 15 woodland creatures, ranging from moose to millipedes. Some poems are short and clever: “The Moose / Ungainly, / mainly.” Others convey wisdom. One about the opossum ends this way: “You bump along the woodland track, / your babies clinging to your back: / there’s beauty, too, in duty.” One about the skunk warns, “Give the skunk / a lot of / room, unless / you care for / strong perfume.” Watercolor and mixed-media paintings of the animals make the book engaging to look at as well as read. (Ages 3-7)

Brian Wildsmith’s Animal Gallery by Brian Wildsmith: Budding wordsmiths will enjoy this book of collective nouns for groups of animals. Some are so unusual that I checked to make sure they did not originate in the late Brian Wildsmith’s imagination: a crash of rhinoceroses, a skulk of foxes, a game of swans, a flotilla of swordfish, a siege of herons, a shrewdness of apes. Because these may not be the most common collective nouns, they convey both the playfulness of the English language and its descriptive richness. Some of the illustrations appeared in previous Wildsmith books. They show animal groups painted in his colorful, exuberant style. (Ages 4-8)

Catch That Chicken! by Atinuke: Young Lami loves chickens, and she’s fast. She’s clearly the best chicken catcher in her village. Atinuke tells the story with vigorous prose: “Lami leans! Lami lunges! Lami leaps!” The illustrations convey movement and show intriguing details about life in Lami’s African village. Under a huge baobab tree, men play mancala and talk. School happens under another tree. As Lami chases a chicken through the village, people warn her: “Sannu! Sannu!” Slow down! When Lami hurts herself chasing a chicken up a tree, Nana Nadia teaches her an important lesson: “It’s not quick chasing that catches chickens—it’s quick thinking.” (Ages 2-5)


Heidi Woodward Sheffield’s Brick by Brick (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020) highlights the bond between a hardworking father and his admiring little boy. “Mi papi es fuerte—my papi is strong.” The illustrations show the amazing buildings Papi, a bricklayer, builds and the ways young Luis imitates his papi. One day, Luis hopes, Papi will build a house for the family. The book weaves Spanish into the text and also into the colorful mixed-media illustrations. 

Heads and Tails Insects by John Canty (Candlewick, 2020) is a gorgeous riddle book about insects. Ink-and-watercolor illustrations hint at the answer to simple riddles: “I visit you on warm nights. I buzz in your ear and keep you awake. I can bite you and suck your blood. I am a …” Two legs and an abdomen are visible, but turn the page and there’s a fully drawn mosquito. —S.O.