Creature features

Young readers may recognize themselves in these four funny picture books portraying animals — contemporary, extinct, and imaginary alike — in very human situations and with very human foibles.

Dinah, the star of David Ezra Stein’s Dinosaur Kisses, bursts out of her egg, eager to experience her prehistoric world. After some exploratory stomping and chomping, she sees two little fluffy animals puckering up for a kiss and decides to give it a try. Dinah doesn’t know her own strength, though, and her puppyish attempts at affection miss their marks — until one of her nest-mates hatches. Stein’s engaging illustrations work hand-in-hand with his simple, energetic text, giving the overly friendly Dinah center stage. (Candlewick, 2–5 years)

Author Bob Shea tackles a difficult childhood emotion — jealousy — with humor in Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great. Shiny newcomer Unicorn seems to be better than Goat at everything. When Goat’s admiring chorus of five small creatures shifts its allegiance to Unicorn, Goat gets really, really angry. By the end of the book, however, Goat and Unicorn have become buddies. Shea’s cartoon illustrations use a bright and varied palette and employ his signature minimalist style, while exaggerated facial expressions emphasize Goat’s matter-of-fact grumpiness and Unicorn’s wide-eyed sparkliness. (Disney-Hyperion, 2–5 years)

Tomoko Ohmura’s The Long, Long Line begins with fifty animals standing in a line waiting for…what? Readers must wait along with them and guess at what’s to come. Mini-dramas unfold as the animals try to pass the time until, finally, they’re off for a wild ride on the Jumbo Coaster — a humpback whale who takes them through a splashy routine of flips and jumps. The illustrations are simple and vivid, rendered in saturated colors against ample white space, with faces and body language conveying a wide range of emotions. (Owlkids, 2–5 years)

In Xander’s Panda Party, plans for a modest fete grow increasingly tangled for Xander, the lone panda at the zoo, as his guest list expands from bears-only to include other mammals, birds, and reptiles. A resourceful salamander steps up to help, and then a surprise guest turns the affair into a true celebration. Internal rhyme makes Linda Sue Park’s text sing as Xander tackles each new challenge, all shown in Matt Phelan’s sprightly ink and watercolor illustrations. (Clarion, 3–7 years)

From the September 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, assistant editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College.

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