a list of…five cheerful animal tales to put a smile in the day

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit, story and illustrations by Catherine Rayner

When you start a story with a moose, you are five leagues into happy territory from the get-go.

This story starts with a moose named Ernest, and his pal, a chipmunk.  Ernest is, like all moose, rather large.  In fact, his enormous size has become a bulky problem as he cannot seem to FIT inside the book, of which, in fact he is the main character.

Ernest is also a persevering fellow so he tries his level best to cram his shaggy body, gangly legs, and massive rack onto the pages, but as soon as one piece of him fits, another part is budged right off the edge.  This becomes very disappointing.

However, his wee friend, who has been gamely helping as possible, comes up with a genius plan, and after a lot of busy working, the two of them succeed!  How do they manage it?!  That’s the super duper surprise at the end of the book!

This is a short, charming story, full of friendship, kindness, pluck and triumph.  Ernest is utterly lovable.  Shortlisted for a Kate Greenaway medal several years back, Rayner’s soft, multiple-media illustrations are brilliant, humorous, endearing.  The font sizes and page layouts add loads of playfulness.  Share this with toddlers and up for a sure hit.

My Snake Blake, by Randy Sieger, illustrations by Serge Broch

One fine morning, Dad marches into this little boy’s room carrying a large and mysterious package.  “Happy Early Birthday!” he announces with aplomb, adding that the package requires immediate opening as the item inside needs to breathe.

Hmm…….

Inside the package is a very long, very green, snake!  In less time than it takes to tell it, Mom turns a bit green herself!  Dad and son, however insist that the snake deserves 1) a name, and 2) its liberty.  Out of the cage scoots the snake, but instead of doing creepy, nasty, snaky things, this snake beautifully twists and curls his length into a lovely, green, greeting:  hello!  He also uses his body to spell out his preferred name: Blake.

Blake turns out to be a completely delightful, uncommonly helpful companion,  much beloved by the whole family.  Even Mom. He assists with everything from cooking to dog-walking.  Keep your cats and dogs, says this boy; Blake is absolutely the best of pets.

A happy, slightly eccentric tale, which will put a smile on the face of kindergartners and up.  The cherry red, rectangular book echoes the snakes length, and Broch’s sparse line drawings with a blush of pink or a swoosh of green are the perfect, quirky, comical accompaniment. For those who can read, it really is quite a lark to read the words written in snake!

The Elephant from Baghdad, by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, illustrated by Jon Cannell

Speaking of giving a pet as a gift…

Here’s another tale with that plot, but this time it’s based on a true story featuring a magnificent king, a majestic Muslim caliph, and an outstanding elephant.

In the Middle Ages, Charlemagne ruled over most of Europe, while in Baghdad, caliph Harun al-Rashid presided over the vast Muslim world.  These two astonishingly powerful, wealthy men were also curious, ever wanting to increase their knowledge and understanding.  Charlemagne sent a contingent from his court to visit ancient Baghdad, to record the wonders they saw and learned.  On their return, al-Rashid loaded their caravan down with incredibly impressive gifts, including…one elephant named Abu.

It was quite a trek, but Abu arrived finally, safe and sound, to the terrified-wonder of the people.  Over the years Abu and Charlemagne  became dear friends, even soaking in the hot springs together.  What a sight that would have been!

Mary Tavener Holmes and Jon Cannell have teamed up earlier in a similar story I’ve reviewed here.  This story is very well told, jeweled with fascinating historic details yet focusing on the dear elephant.  Cannell’s mixed-media illustrations are incredibly appealing, combining joyful, childlike drawings in sandy-desert brown, grass green, sky blue and sunbaked-brick red,  with just the right number of photographic images of medieval artifacts.  Read it with kindergartners and up.

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter

From the queen of animal tales herself comes this adorable tale of a fastidiously tidy mouse and her trying visit from an obliviously mussy friend.

Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse is “a most terribly tidy particular little mouse” who is forever keeping her earthen burrow neat as a pin, chasing and shooshing out unwelcome critters who straggle their way into her home leaving their tiny, dirty footprints about.  Sigh.

One day,  Mrs. Tittlemouse returns to her parlour to find…oh dear!…Mr. Jackson, her blithe but slovenly froggy friend, installed in front of her hearth, his portly frame overfilling her petite rocking chair, his drippy feet leaving puddles on her fresh floor.   Ook.  Of course, Mrs. Tittlemouse is an extremely polite hostess and does her best to entertain and feed her guest, but it is all very vexing and taxing to say the least.  Such a lot of untidiness he leaves behind!

Then comes my favorite line from the book:  “Will it ever be tidy again?” said poor Mrs. Tittlemouse.  (Ah, how often we’ve quoted that line around our disheveled household!)

All’s well in the end, though, as Thomasina gets things a-sparkling once more, and there’s even a sweet party to celebrate.

What’s to be said about Beatrix Potter?  Our collection of her pint-sized books is full of dog-eared favorites, we quote them endlessly, and I think it’s a shame if succeeding generations miss out on these classic, rich tales with such unbeatable illustrations.

Animal Masquerade, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc

Whoopee!  It’s time for the animal masquerade!  Everyone’s invited, but “disguises are a must!”

Disguises require a bit of racking the brain, but every animal in this glorious lot comes up with a lovely, creative idea.  Well.  Almost every one.  As you’ll see, there are a few who don’t quite fall in line.

From an elephant disguised as a parrot, to a ladybug in a hippopotamus outfit, these are animals dressed up as you’ve never seen them!  Page after page after page of festive costumes parade by in this book.  It is such fun to try to guess what will appear as each animal makes his choice, but these disguises are so original, you will surely be surprised by every single one.

An incredibly simple story line, interrupted by several humorous blips, brings us to a final jubilant scene of the entire costumed crew.  The pages themselves feature a lot of white space, and a brilliant, colorful pencil crayon drawing of the featured animal.  Originally published in French so if you prefer that, look for Au carnaval des animaux.  Great for ages 4 and up.

Here are Amazon links for this merry menagerie of titles:

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit

My Snake Blake

The Elephant from Baghdad

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse

Animal Masquerade