Two Wild-Animal Picture Books Reassure Young Readers

Cindy: We recently discovered two stunning picture books, both from small presses, featuring jungle animals and stories that read like modern folktales.

One is Lantana Press’ You’re Safe With Me (2018), by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry. Thank you, Lerner, for distributing this gorgeous picture book in the U. S. and Canada. I was drawn to the cover art and to be honest, flipped through the pages the first time to view the art before going back to the beginning to read the story. Both are a treat.

A stormy night descends upon a forest in India, frightening the baby animals and keeping them from sleep. Mama Elephant reassures them with her soothing explanations for each concern. “Don’t worry about the wind,” she whispers. “He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.”

Soon, she calms their worries altogether with explanations and a calming refrain: “You’re safe with me.” Each page-turn through rain, thunder, lightning, and other storm elements brings new visual delights and some noises for little ones to repeat. (“CRACK-TRACK! The sky lit up. FLASH-SNAP! The night flickered.”)

Mistry’s paintings are stunning, extending the book’s appeal to older children who will appreciate finely detailed animals that sometimes appear camouflaged. As Amina Chaudhri says in her starred Booklist review, “Listeners will either be fast asleep by the end of the story, or wide awake, captivated by the art.” Add this to your bedtime story repertoire. Art teachers, take notice: students could have a lot of fun painting their own finely patterned animals while learning about Indian culture.

Ayobami and the Names of the Animals by Pilar Lopez AvilaLynn: On the opening page of Ayobami and the Names of the Animals (2017) by Pilar Lopez Avila, readers learn a war has ended, and the children are dancing with joy at the news that school is re-opening. None are more excited than little Ayobami. When she gets lost on her way, a hippo tells her the quickest path is through the jungle. Encountering a series of hungry animals, clever Ayobami barters her safe passage for promises to learn to write each animal’s name on a piece of paper for them. A snake, a jaguar, a crocodile, a spider and a mosquito all agree. At school, Ayobami learns the letters and sounds and the ways to put them together to make words. (“And she heard the music that comes from making words.”)

Each animal waits in the jungle and happily glides away with its name on a piece of paper, using all of Ayobami’s paper so that she has nothing to show her parents. But in the night, as the animals dream of their names, the wind gathers the paper and blows them home to the small writer who sets off the next morning to school, “the place where hope was born.”

With the lovely rhythmic flow of a folktale, this story spins a story of jungle animals that children will love. But at its heart, this is a celebration of learning, its power and importance. It is a stark reminder that for many, school is a rare gift. Beautifully written, the text is enhanced by Mar Azabal’s gorgeous, warm-toned illustrations. The drawings flow and swoop across the pages like cursive writing, creating a dreamy feel. Letters of the alphabet dance here and there, popping up as the jaguar’s spots or caught in a spider’s web, while the endpapers look like a child’s practice homework of the upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet. A perfect back-to-school bedtime story for the K-1st Grade set.

This comes from a Spanish publisher and is published on “stone paper,” which is waterproof and tear resistant and made without water, trees, or bleach.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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