4 picture books starring critter friends

Whether it’s rowing down a river, buying bread at the bakery, playing before bedtime, or just figuring out how to get out of a funk, the charming adventures of these little animals will put a smile on your face.
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Little Shrew lives a life similar to most people: He wakes up, goes to work and comes home to do his daily chores. But certain ordinary things are exciting enough to disrupt his neatly maintained schedule: solving his Rubik’s Cube, finding an old television set for sale and having friends visit his house. Soon, Little Shrew has a dream to leave behind his mundane life and visit a tropical island, “a beautiful place, like the one on the television.” But can the life he has continue to enchant him until that day?

Akiko Miyakoshi (I Dream of a Journey) quietly charms with Little Shrew, a cozy collection of three stories in which muted visuals in a rustic palette—created with Miyakoshi’s signature mix of wood charcoal, acrylic gouache and pencil—are paired perfectly with soothing yet sparse text, truly setting the mood of each story. 

Though Little Shrew dreams of going somewhere grand, it is the small things in his life that shine brightest. The best part of his day is when Little Shrew “buys two rye bread rolls and one white roll,” inspiration for an illustration that will immediately make readers long for a bakery. He lists beloved gifts from friends, which are as meaningful as any trip: “A jar of cherry blossom honey harvested in the spring. Mushrooms and chestnuts gathered in autumn. Fancy chocolate bars.” 

Little Shrew feels calm and grounded in a way that few picture books do. Readers will be left considering  the quiet, enchanting moments they can find amidst the humdrum of their daily lives. Little Shrew will be a beloved addition to the shelves of readers who loved Phoebe Wahl’s Little Witch Hazel or Yeorim Yoon’s It’s Ok, Slow Lizard, or fans of cozy classics and their film adaptations like Paddington and Winnie the Pooh.  

Little Shrew feels calm and grounded in a way that few picture books do. Readers will be left considering the quiet, enchanting moments they can find amidst the humdrum of their daily lives.
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As long as there are bedtimes and children who’d like to avoid them, there will be picture books there to help: Moon Bear, written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Carolina T. Godina, is an excellent addition to the fold.

Godina’s gouache and colored pencil illustrations introduce young Ettie as she cleans up, bathes, puts on pajamas and enjoys a story with her mother. But the comfort of her bedtime routine dissolves as soon as her mother turns out the light, leaving Ettie in the dark with a flashlight. The almost wordless format gives emerging readers the chance to interpret the story as they see it, and with its soft palette and gentle spirit, Welsh and Godina’s collaboration is sure to be loved by children and caregivers alike. 

Godina varies her layouts throughout, sometimes utilizing a comic book style to demonstrate bedtime moments over multiple panels, other times illustrating full spreads, as when Ettie’s fearful face peeks out of the covers in her darkened room. When twinkling light begins streaming through the break in her curtains. Ettie gets out to explore, testing the light tentatively before pulling it around to draw beautiful designs. Looking out the window, she notices how certain stars form the shape of a bear and connects them with the magical light, bringing the bear to life. At first shy, the bear soon starts to play with Ettie, trying on her slippers and testing her paintbrushes. 

Before long, they are both fast asleep, and when morning comes, Ettie can’t wait to start her day. The final pages show her rushing excitedly through her day, even announcing, “Time for bed, Mommy,” as the clock on the wall shows her to be 45 minutes ahead of her normal bedtime. With nods to such favorites as Frank Asch’s Moonbear and Eric Rohmann’s Clara and Asha, Moon Bear is a quiet reminder of the power of a child’s imagination. 

With its soft palette and gentle spirit, Clare Helen Welsh and Carolina T. Godina’s ode to bedtime is sure to be loved by children and caregivers alike.

A little bird is in a funk. But that’s OK, a grown-up bird reminds them. It’s OK to feel a little bit off sometimes: “No need to try to fix everything, but let’s move a few things around.” You never know what might make a tiny difference. In A Tiny Difference (Katherine Tegen, $19.99, 9780063114159), with the help of their grown-up and lots of friends, our little bird learns new techniques to connect with their body. To breathe, to stretch, to wiggle, to dance! At the same time, our friend also begins to reconnect with their mind, imagining everything from hot air balloons to aliens to a hug from a friend.

Writer and illustrator June Tate presents a tender poem from the perspective of a kind and loving adult, encouraging readers with simple, relatable language. Rather than telling us to breathe, Tate writes “fill up your rib cage” and “open up like a window.” Rather than reminding us to stretch, she tells us to “reach to the sides of the room” in order to “get out those crunchy bits.” The picture book concludes with the narrator listing all the traits that make the little bird special, reminding us as readers that we too are loved by those in our lives. 

Made with colored pencils, markers and watercolors, Tate’s illustrations are reminiscent of a child’s drawings. These deceptively simple images introduce friends to help out: A frog teaches us to breathe. A squirrel teaches us to stretch. A butterfly teaches us to squeeze and relax! Each creature’s expressions and actions are clear and relatable. 

Whether your young reader is anxious, worried or simply has had a hard day, this sweet, mindful book is sure to help all readers center themselves. Fans of Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds’ I Am books and Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened will be glad to add A Tiny Difference to their book shelves.

In A Tiny Difference, writer and illustrator June Tate presents a tender poem from the perspective of a kind and loving adult, encouraging young readers with simple, relatable language.

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