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Our Animal Friends in Nine Wonderful Children's Books

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Some of the most cherished and compelling characters in children's books have been animals. Peter Rabbit, Stuart Little, Winnie-the-Pooh, Aslan, Wilbur, Charlotte and Templeton are but a tiny and classic fraction of the wonderful assortment of talking creatures who accompany children, providing them with reassurance and teaching them empathy, compassion and tolerance. Although some researchers argue that anthropomorphizing animals gives children a false idea about the natural world, a better line of reasoning might lead us to enjoy the vast selection of books with wonderful personalities in them, but also to teach children about real animals. Children are intelligent enough to figure out the difference. In the meantime, here is a selection of classic and newer children's books for young readers, young adults and of course, parents themselves, that include unforgettable animal characters.

Top illustration from the Iranian book Long Neck Deer by Djamsheed Sepahi , illustrated by Yoota Azargeen, courtesy 50 Watts.


In this graphic novel for teens, Nick Abadzis uses fact and fiction to tell the tale of Laika, the abandoned puppy who became the first Earthling to travel in space. Two other characters make up a trio; Korolev, an engineer who heads the Soviet space program, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and life. Laika's story is utterly compelling and unforgettable.

The Frog In The Well

Based on a classic Chinese fable, and illustrated by the late Roger Duvoisin who also created the now-classic The Happy Lion, also in this reading list. The Frog in the Well is the story of a brave frog and his journey towards wisdom: the well was the frog’s entire world, until the day it ran dry and his livelihood—bugs—began to disappear. The hungry frog decides to hop to the top of the well. When he reaches it, he is entranced by what he sees, and ventures forth to find out more about this world outside his own. 

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems is as much for adults as it is for children. A little penguin goes on a rant: his beak is cold, he doesn't like the salty smell of the water, he wishes he didn't waddle or look like everyone else. Life in Antarctica is no picnic and this grumpy penguin does a good job of letting us know. But his crankiness slowly moves towards a brighter outlook as his glass starts looking half full...

One Cheetah, One Cherry

This counting book is beautifully original in its playful wording, and the watercolor illustrations are simply dazzling. Although there is no real story here, there is a fine collection of animals: one cheetah, two dogs and three bears—building up to include elephants, tigers, swans, mice and more.

The Happy Lion

This 1954 classic was the first in a series about a happy lion, created by the illustrator Roger Duvoisin and his wife, Louise Fatio. The happy lion lives in a zoo in a small town in France. Every day, people pass by to say hello to him. When he finds his cage door open, he decides to pay a visit to all the friendly people who stop by each day. But sacré bleu—why is everyone fleeing?


This is another reprint of a timeless classic by the late Eve Titus. Anatole is a particularly sensitive mouse who realizes that human beings don't like sharing their food with mice. Anatole, who samples cheeses from the Duval Cheese Factory, begins to leave typed notices about the quality of the cheeses. The factory workers follow his advice and their cheeses sell better than ever. Anatole, who has requested to remain anonymous, is invited by the owner, M. Duval, to help himself to cheese and other delicacies every night. Anatole and his family are proud and happy that he has become "a respectable business-mouse."

Fox's garden

On a cold winter night, a vixen is seeking shelter to give birth to her little ones. Hunted by villagers, as the first snowflakes appear, she takes refuge in a greenhouse where a small boy sees her and decides to help. Beautifully illustrated with  cut-paper vignettes, this tender and heart-warming story is about compassion and generosity. 

The White Cat and the Monk

Inspired by a classic Old Irish poem, "Pangur Ban," and illustrated with gorgeous watercolor and ink drawings by the award-winning Sydney Smith, The White Cat and the Monk tells the meditative story of a monk who leads a simple life studying late into the evening seeking meaningfulness. His companion, the cat Pangur, also leads a simple life, chasing his prey each night. As morning dawns, each has found his inner peace.


This is a story about a baby elephant called Raju and how he travels with his mother into the unknown, on a great jungle adventure. With Raju holding onto his mother's tail, they brave rivers, snapping crocodiles, tall grass and dark forests with ferocious tigers. Like children who ask "When will we get there?",  Raju's mother's answer to his questions is always "Soon"...

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