The best animal books

22 authors have picked their favorite books about animals and why they recommend each book.

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Animals and Where They Live

By John Feltwell,

Book cover of Animals and Where They Live

There are lots of animal encyclopedias out there, but none compares to this Dorling Kindersly book. Each double-page spread focuses on a particular biome. The illustration takes up most of the page and depicts the inhabitants assembled in naturalistic poses. Along the borders of the page are labels and short paragraphs about each of the animals. Topics related to a particular biome are included: Surviving the Cold, The Burrowers, etc. The Life in the Mountains and The Ocean Depths sections show the different levels in which animals live. This is a book to be gazed at long and luxuriously, preferably on a lap.

Who am I?

When I was a child, I saw a grasshopper doing the sidestroke in the ocean and it sparked my interest in animal behavior. Though I still don’t know if all grasshoppers do the sidestroke, I’ve learned a lot about animal adaptations since then. And I’ve learned a lot about what motivates young readers from my years as a reading specialist and a classroom teacher. I’ve put that knowledge to work in my two popular books: Who Has These Feet? and Who Has This Tail?

I wrote...

Who Has These Feet?

By Laura Hulbert, Erik Brooks (illustrator),

Book cover of Who Has These Feet?

What is my book about?

Who Has These Feet uses a lively guessing game format to introduce children to animal adaptations. Young readers enjoy following the predictable format of the text to explore the link between shape and function in the feet of nine animals from different habitats. The brightly detailed paintings by Erik Brooks are scientifically accurate and very appealing.

World of Wonders

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Fumi Nakamura (illustrator),

Book cover of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

There’s this rumor that poets look longer and harder at the ornaments of the world than do anyone else.  They keep looking, and looking, and looking, after most everyone else has long ago looked away, moved on. Here, in the wonderful world of poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s first book of nonfiction, whimsy and reverence twine like the DNA helices of the flora and fauna she examines. In her essay on the firefly, I adore the part when the insects “…lose their light rhythm for a few minutes after a single car’s headlights pass. Sometimes it takes hours for them to recalibrate their blinking patterns.”

Who am I?

Like many who carry over childish curiosity into adulthood, I'm attracted to forbidden places. I trespass. When I heard that a portion of South Africa’s coast was owned by the De Beers conglomerate and closed to the public for nearly 80 years, plunging the local communities into mysterious isolation, I became obsessed with visiting the place. Afterward, I began studying carrier pigeons—the amazing flying things that folks use to smuggle diamonds out of the mines. I wrote a book about this, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers. I'm also the author of nonfiction books about the first-ever photograph of the giant squid, working on a medical marijuana farm, and American food culture.

I wrote...

Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa

By Matthew Gavin Frank,

Book cover of Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa

What is my book about?

For nearly eighty years, a huge portion of coastal South Africa was closed to the public. With many of its pits now deemed “overmined” and abandoned, American journalist Matthew Gavin Frank sets out across the infamous Diamond Coast to investigate an illicit trade that supplies a global market. Immediately, he became intrigued by the ingenious methods used in facilitating smuggling, particularly, the illegal act of sneaking carrier pigeons onto mine property, affixing diamonds to their feet, and sending them into the air.

Frank soon meets Msizi, a young diamond miner, and his pigeon, Bartholomew, who helps him steal diamonds. It’s a deadly game: pigeons are shot on sight by mine security, and Msizi knows of smugglers who have disappeared because of their crimes.

Armadillo Tattletale

By Helen Ketteman, Keith Graves (illustrator),

Book cover of Armadillo Tattletale

This is a wonderful tale about an armadillo, who loves to hide and spy on other animals and tell tall tales (lies) about what he hears. Cute fable of sorts on why the armadillo has such small ears. The book claims he started with very tall ears and every time he eavesdropped in other’s conversations, his ears got smaller. As a preschool teacher and grandmother, I encourage the children to “tell” us adults what is happening to get someone OUT of trouble, rather than to “tattle” on someone to get them IN trouble, which is not helpful. Through lyrical text and vivid illustrations, children learn that it is important to respect the privacy of others and avoid telling lies that hurt feelings.

Who am I?

As an internationally respected discipline expert, I guide parents in how to get more compliance than defiance from their little ones. I coined the phrase “The Dance of Non-Compliance” between parent and child. In order to change the dance, the parent will usually have to change his/her dance step first. It is often impossible during the heat of the moment, to teach ‘the lesson’ to the child due to the agitated emotional state of both parent and child. A well-executed picture book, appropriately written and illustrated for young children's developmental thinking ability, can open the door for a meaningful discussion regarding their misbehavior and feelings.

I wrote...

The Pocket Parent

By Gail Reichlin, Caroline Winkler,

Book cover of The Pocket Parent

What is my book about?

The Pocket Parent is a classic, trusted A to Z  compendium, with over 200,000 copies in print and 17 translated editions worldwide. Just turn to the misbehavior that's driving you crazy to get some fast, bulleted sanity-saving suggestions to try along with a good dose of humor and compassion from the authors.

Communication is the key to solving all problems. Yet, in the heat of the moment, on one of those really bad days when your child becomes 'parent deaf', you may find yourself losing your mind... yelling, threatening, bribing, and criticizing in a way you’d never speak to your worst enemy. Although a parent’s job is to stop the undesirable/unsafe behavior immediately, that moment is the least effective time for both a parent to teach, or a young child to learn a lesson. 
Calmly revisiting the situation later with appropriate discussion makes way for a successful plan for next time. The Pocket Parent guides you every step of the way ;-)

On the Night You Were Born

By Nancy Tillman,

Book cover of On the Night You Were Born

As parents, we want our children to somehow fathom the immensity of our love and carry it with them throughout their lives. Each time I read this book to my child as a baby and especially now as a three-year-old, I feel like I am able to convey how special she is and how the world was never the same after the day she was born. The beautiful language selected is captivating for the listener and the message so pithy, that I find myself expressing many of the lines in a mere whisper.

Who am I?

I am a mom who always dreamed of becoming a writer, but was too scared to try until I met my baby. The overwhelming urge to express my love for her in what I have always considered the most sacred way, through writing, became too much to contain. I wanted to create a meaningful experience not only for my child, but for all children; one where they could be nestled in their parents’ arms, engaged in the most significant pastime, and where they could understand for the first time how much they were loved from the very beginning.

I wrote...

When You Were in My Belly

By Kara Michelle Liu, Hanji Kim (illustrator),

Book cover of When You Were in My Belly

What is my book about?

When You Were in My Belly shares the story of three families as they prepare for the arrival of their new baby. Through each activity, whether it is deliberating over the namesake or selecting the perfect crib, each family can barely contain their excitement. Somewhere between the sound of the heartbeat at the doctor’s office and each felt movement in the belly, the parents are spellbound and know their lives will never be the same. It is the universal story of parental love, evident from the very beginning.

Wildlife Ranger Action Guide

By Mary Kay Carson,

Book cover of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home

This book challenges kids to get outside and observe the wildlife in their own communities—the BEST way to connect to nature. Written as a field guide, this book is meant to be shoved in a backpack and consulted on the trail. Mary Kay Carson shows kids how to record observations in a nature journal and includes many projects with materials found around the house. Before you know it, your kids will be local wildlife experts. When kids understand nature, they care about it, and when they care, they protect it. 

Perfect for ages 6-12.

Who am I?

I’m a Sibert Honor author and write books for kids and teens about nature. Part biography, part science adventure, my books introduce readers to real scientists and the unexpected twists and turns of their discoveries. The more I research the more I discover hidden connections to our natural world that humble me and fill me with gratitude. I do my best to share these connections with readers in an accurate, truthful way to help them find their own “ah-ha” moments in life. I want them to say, “I can do this, too!”

I wrote...

Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean

By Patricia Newman, Annie Crawley (photographer),

Book cover of Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean

What is my book about?

The ocean’s story is our story. To prove it, Planet Ocean takes readers of all ages to three ocean regions to witness their unique connections to each other—and to us. On the journey, we’ll meet scientists working with new technologies, Indigenous peoples tackling changes to their traditional ways of life, and kids and teens who speak for our ocean. Through these stories the effects of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, and overfishing become personal. QR code videos add an interactive storytelling dimension to show readers what happens beneath the waves when they’re not looking. By helping the ocean, we help ourselves. Planet Ocean is us.

Academy Award winning actor and environmentalist Jeff Bridges calls Planet Ocean “A must-read with your children.”

My Friends

By Taro Gomi,

Book cover of My Friends

All the books I’m drawn to have striking and beautiful illustrations and this one is no exception. I love the joyful and varied way that friendship is expressed in this board book. I purchased the book when my daughter was still in preschool (she’s in high school now), and the message of finding camaraderie in as many places as possible still resonates deeply.

Who am I?

My parents were both born and raised in Japan but met in New York and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up. My first language was Japanese and as a nisei (second generation), I am deeply steeped in my Asian heritage. I am continually inspired by the art and storytelling that originates from Japanese culture and love to incorporate them into my own work.

I wrote...

Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

By Sanae Ishida,

Book cover of Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

What is my book about?

Meet Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training! On a "super-secret island" in a "super super secret village," Little Kunoichi, is struggling at school. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation, and they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Through beautiful watercolor illustrations and a funny and endearing story, Little Kunoichi will capture the imagination of young ninjas-in-training.

The endnotes contain additional information about sumo wrestling, ninja training, and other aspects of Japanese language and culture. More adventures can be found in the Little Kunoichi series with Chibi Samuari Wants a Pet and Ba-chan The Ninja Grandma. And don’t miss the companion baby board books about Little Sumos!

Why Elephants Have Big Ears

By Chris Lavers,

Book cover of Why Elephants Have Big Ears : Understanding Patterns of Life on Earth

If you’re gonna draw any creatures, humans included, it’s important to understand all the factors that influence their size and their shape. The temperature of their environment, the altitude, the precipitation— even the gravity of the planet itself. The book gives gives an in-depth understanding as to why animals look they way they do, and why some weird structures are not only practical, but crucial for a species to survive.

Who am I?

I believe stories to be our species’ instinctual tool for discovering our best selves. Sometimes those stories are about real people in the past, sometimes they’re completely imagined people in the future — sometimes we even swap out the humans for animals or aliens, or sassy anthropomorphized objects. Whatever the case, for a story to work its wonders, its details must be believable, or we reject its premise. These books help make a story believable, and, if you get the alchemy just right, those details can even help tell the story themselves.

I wrote...

New in Town

By Kevin Cornell,

Book cover of New in Town

What is my book about?

One fine morning, the people of Puddletrunk wake up to find their bridge has collapsed. They are not surprised. After all, termites have destroyed the last 200 or so bridges. Luckily, the people of Puddletrunk have a bridge-building expert in their town: the fabulous Mortimer Gulch, who will gladly rebuild their bridge for a pretty penny. But when a newcomer to Puddletrunk does not want to pay for the repairs, Mortimer is displeased. To make matters worse, this unusual foreigner has some innovative ideas that threaten to upend Mortimer Gulch's entire business.

Here is a whimsical yet timely picture book allegory about what new people with new ideas can bring to communities.

We All Play

By Julie Flett,

Book cover of We All Play

We All Play is a gorgeously simple book that celebrates the ways in which animals and children move. Bear cubs wiggle and wobble, and so do children! A few Cree words are sprinkled throughout, drawing attention to the connection among all living creatures. From start to finish, this book takes place outside.

Who am I?

I love the outdoors, and there are so many benefits to playing, imagining, and being outside. I grew up on a fruit farm in Southern Ontario, so I spent much of my growing years playing outdoors and enjoying the natural world. When I became a professional educator, I read the research about the very concrete benefits being outside every day has on young learners. Bring on the recess! Books have a way of sparking action. When we read about how someone else enjoys the outdoors, it makes us want to do the same. Books are inspiring.

I wrote...

Salad Pie

By Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo (illustrator),

Book cover of Salad Pie

What is my book about?

Maggie is determined to make Salad Pie at the playground—alone. But then Herbert appears. He wants to play. Maggie resists. Herbert watches and waits. Maggie’s imagination flourishes with the attention. Then, Salad Pie tumbles down, Herbert saves the day, and an unexpected friendship begins.

Ten Million Aliens

By Simon Barnes,

Book cover of Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom

This book is probably my favorite among natural history reading I’ve come across. A chance encounter at the library, I ended up buying a copy for myself as well as gifting it to several friends. Barnes weaves together short vignettes about science, observation, and personal encounters with nature organized from the tiniest life forms to some of the largest. Biologist JBS Haldane once said, “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.” This book proves it with memorable anecdotes and a wonderful sense of kinship and compassion for life both like us and completely unlike us.

Who am I?

I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and spent many weekends hiking, camping, and fishing with my parents. Identifying and understanding the plants and animals around me was always interesting, and this love of nature has stayed with me as an adult. I now live near Lake Michigan and am an avid hiker, birdwatcher, and an Indiana Master Naturalist. I take endless inspiration from the natural world in my illustration work and believe that co-existing with, respecting, and preserving the natural world is central not just to the integrity of our planet, but to our very humanity.

I wrote...

Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects: Step-By-Step Realistic Line Drawing - A Sourcebook for Aspiring Artists and Designers

By Melissa Washburn,

Book cover of Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects: Step-By-Step Realistic Line Drawing - A Sourcebook for Aspiring Artists and Designers

What is my book about?

Featuring more than 600 sketches depicting a vast array of beautiful winged forms, Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects is a visual reference for students and aspiring artists, or anyone else seeking to improve their realistic drawing skills.

This step-by-step guidebook demonstrates fundamental art concepts like proportion, anatomy, and spatial relationships as you learn to draw a full range of winged creatures, all shown from a variety of perspectives. Each set of illustrations takes you from beginning sketch lines to a finished drawing.

The Song that Sings Us

By Nicola Davies,

Book cover of The Song that Sings Us

This is an epic adventure story with a strong environmental theme, set in an alternative world. A harsh government, the Automators, trains citizens to think of the whole natural world – animals, plants, everything – as theirs to use and exploit. Set against them is a group of specially gifted people, the Listeners, who can tune in to animal minds and share their thoughts. But this ability is a dangerous one, as anyone found to be a Listener can be imprisoned and brainwashed. Harlon, Ash, Zeno, and their mother are part of a resistance group called Green Thorn, which tunes into an unseen network that connects all living things. This is an exciting story that’s also moving and poetic – and the story will continue!

Who am I?

I'm mainly known as an author of fiction for young readers, but animal awareness is an important part of my life and I decided to write about it.  I’ve been vegetarian for many years, and vegan for the last four: I decided long ago that no animal was going to die so that I could eat it. From early childhood, I loved animal stories, and as I grew older it baffled me that we care for our pets while thinking of other creatures as food. I spend a lot of my time campaigning for animals – for better treatment of farm animals, against bloodsports like fox-hunting and shooting, and for better awareness of the natural world and how we must look after it. 

I wrote...

This Book Is Cruelty Free: Animals and Us

By Linda Newbery,

Book cover of This Book Is Cruelty Free: Animals and Us

What is my book about?

My book is a guide to compassionate living. Every day of our lives we make choices – about what to eat, wear, use, waste, and throw away – and these choices affect animals and the environment in all sorts of ways. How can we choose better, and live more kindly? I look at food, fashion, pets, zoos, how to engage with nature, and much more, including how to campaign for a better world for animals. I hope this book will help you to feel confident with your decisions, to make positive changes, and maybe influence others too.

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