Storytime: Baby Animals

We recently took a trip to Colorado and while heading to the rental lot to drop off our car, we encountered a scene straight out of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings.

Mama duck was leading her babies down a busy street to a busier intersection and it was both adorable and terrifying (don’t worry, they made it!). The world is pretty much in love with baby animals (just check out social media) so I thought I’d pick some books about them this month, starting with:

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

To be honest, bats kind of creep me out with their leathery wings and furry bodies, but Janell Cannon is able to make even a baby bat cute (and does the same for a python and a cockroach in her books Verdi and Crickwing). Stellaluna opens like a fairy tale, “In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby.” And then, for the cute factor, “Oh, how Mother Bat loved her soft tiny baby. ‘I’ll name you Stellaluna,’ she crooned.” Soft and tiny? So cute.

There’s drama as an owl swoops down and Mama Bat loses her hold on her baby. Stellaluna falls and ends up in a bird’s nest. She’s so hungry she eventually eats a grasshopper (even though she’s a fruit bat who doesn’t like insects). The art is just incredible.

As time goes on she tries to be like the other baby birds and learns to fly with them, but one day when night comes, she doesn’t return. She’s found by some other bats, including one who sniffs her fur and whispers, “You are Stellaluna. You are my baby.”

But wait, it’s not over yet! Stellaluna goes back to see the baby birds, who try to do the things she can do (like fly at night) but fail and they all realize they’re different, “But we’re friends. And that’s a fact.” So many “aaaaaah’s” over this book, and at the end there’s lots of interesting bat facts. Did you know of the nearly 4,000 species of mammals on Earth, almost one quarter are bats?? Great story (it’s a little long, good for older kids and longer attention spans), interesting facts, and the cutest little bat you ever did see.

If You Were Born a Kitten by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by JoEllen McAllister Stammen

In this gorgeous book you learn a little something about each baby animal with each turn of the page. The language is so beautiful and specific it’s hard to describe it. Better to just share.

If you were born a kitten,

you’d slip into the world in a silvery sac,

and your mother would lick, lick, lick you free.

A mother cat is pictured with her teeny kittens, their eyes not even open, painted with pastels. Turn the page and read about baby seahorses, porcupettes, bear cubs and more. It appeals to young children and adults with its sparse, informative text and big, pretty pictures. And at the end, we see a human baby.

Naked as a bear cub.

Soft as a porcupette.

Wrinkled as a deer mouse.

Free as a kitten. You.


Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein

So this book could fall into several categories. It’s great for birthdays (we gave it away at my daughter’s second birthday party for party favors) and it’s about extended family and unconditional love, but I’m putting it with baby animals because it works here, too. It’s a wonderful read aloud with simple text and big, bright pictures and a crowd favorite.

Everyone loves baby gorilla, from his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, to green parrot and big boa constrictor. There’s this great moment, this awesome page turn when everything changes.

Just about everybody in the great green forest loved Little Gorilla! Then one day something happened . . .

Little Gorilla grows and grows and three pages later, Little Gorilla is BIG! He’s got this melancholy expression, no longer a baby, but then “everybody came, and everybody sang, Happy Birthday Little Gorilla!” and then the last page and such a poignant line, “And everybody still loved him.” It now comes in board book, perfect for the littles in your life and everyone else. Still makes me tear up.

Come Along, Daisy by Jane Simmons

This book was a favorite read-aloud when my kids were little. The bright, rich colors, interesting perspectives, short text and real tension kept kids engaged to the very last page. Daisy’s mama tells her to stay close and Daisy tells her mama she’ll try but . . . she doesn’t. Her mom tells her to come along, but Daisy is exploring. She watches the fish, chases dragonflies, and bounces on lily pads.

Then we come to the moment of great tension. Daisy is far from her mama, and “Something big stirred underneath her. Daisy shivered.” We see a giant fish with yellow eyes crouched in the grasses beneath the lily pads. Page turn and an eagle screeches from above, page turn and Daisy hides. Keep turning the pages to see Daisy peeking around tall grass as something rustles, coming closer, and closer, and . . . phew. It’s Mama, who tells Daisy to come along, and this time, she does!

Any child who’s tried hard to obey but failed, or been lost, and scared, will identify with Daisy. It’s pretty brilliant the way it’s scary for little kids, but not too scary. Like all great picture books, it can fit many themes, including one of the cutest baby animals you ever did see: sweet duckling Daisy.

Full Moon Pups by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Lis Garton Scanlon is such a genius with rhyme, like this stanza:

These first few days, they’re nursing

They sleep and scootch and cry,

with the wolf pack watching over

like the moon does from the sky.

Each page turn is a new stanza as we follow a litter of wolf pups born on a full moon for a month, until the moon is full again. There’s danger, but the wolf pack protects them. The pups open their eyes to a wonderful world to explore as they “tumble, tussle and hide,” and there’s this brilliant phrase, “this pack of waxing wolf pups,” that ties the growing pups to the changing moon.

At the end there’s more information about baby wolves and how the species almost became extinct, and about phases of the moon. This truly is a perfect book for a storytime about baby animals and could also be used as part of a more robust science lesson.

Hug by Jez Alborough

I debated whether I included two cute picture books featuring baby apes (this time it’s a chimp instead of a gorilla) and also lots of other jungle animals, but I couldn’t resist. I will use way more words to talk about this book, which has a total of three distinct words in it: hug, mommy, and Bobo. Even the words are cute!

The story is as simple as the text. A baby chimp sees a mommy and baby elephant hugging and says, “hug.” The chimp sees parent and baby lizards and snakes hugging (“hug” and “hug”), and gets sad. The mommy elephant lifts the chimp onto her head and they set off, seeing lots more hugging, and baby just can’t take it. It’s big this time, the sob and the word, ‘”HUG” as all the concerned animals look on. He falls apart, whimpering “hug” as he cries.

And then, the most amazing page turn and we see a grown chimp running out of the forest yelling “BOBO” and on the next page, baby chimp runs into her arms saying “MOMMY” and then turn the page to see all the animals saying “hug” as mommy and baby embrace. But it isn’t over, which I love. Bobo thanks the mommy elephant, embracing her trunk and saying “hug,” and it ends with mommy and baby chimp hand in hand and the words repeated, “mommy” and “Bobo.” I love the name Bobo, all the hugs, the expressions, the storyline. I love this story so much. I want to hug it.

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