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Let's meet some interesting animals with stories of their own.
"Albert of Adelaide" by Howard L. Anderson is a solid adventure tale for adults and older kids.
The full-length novel is set in Australia, where Albert the platypus has escaped from a zoo in Adelaide. He's gone looking for "the Promised Land," which legend has it is located "somewhere in the desert ... a place where old Australia still existed." It's a paradise, "somewhere without people and without zoos."
He meets a wise wombat who's wearing clothes and smoking a pipe. He's never seen an animal clothed before, but accepts the coat and hat offered to him by the wombat, so now he's dressed like the rest of the beings in the dry and dusty land.
When they get into trouble at a bar tended by a kangaroo named Sing Sing O'Hanlin, Albert escapes and continues his search for old Australia, but he now has a price on his head and doesn't realize that he's becoming a legend himself.
Alone in the desert, Albert has to deal with tough customers in the form of bandicoots, wallabys, possums, dingoes and a Tasmanian devil. Pretty much wherever he goes he encounters prejudice and has to contend with bigots who have never seen a platypus before and either make fun of him or don't trust him.
But for Albert, "There was something clean about the desert that reminded him of the river where he had been born. Both the good and the bad were carried by the wind of the desert and currents of the river, and each day brought one or the other or a mixture of both. In doing so, the river and the wind made each day different, and that difference was the salvation of the restless."
The book is a bit violent, with shoot-outs, battles and even deaths. It's a story that's hard to categorize: part spiritual quest, part parable, packaged as an old-fashioned western (for "old Australia," read "old West"). It's one of a kind. Hardcover, 223 pages, $24.99.
Here's a quick look at some other recent animal stories I like.
"Interrupting Chicken" by David Ezra Stein is a Caldecott Honor Book. At bedtime, the little red chicken wants Papa to read her a story before she falls asleep. But every story Papa starts -- such as "Hansel and Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood" -- the little red chicken interrupts, warning the characters about the danger and promptly ending the story. So Papa, who runs out of stories, asks the little chicken to tell him a story. Hardcover, 11 x 9 inches, 40 pages, color illustrations, ages 4 and up, $16.99.
"Bear Has a Story to Tell" by Philip C. Stead has illustrations by Erin E. Stead. It's almost winter, and Bear is sleepy. But first, he has a story to tell. He tries to tell Mouse, but Mouse has to gather seeds. He tries to tell Duck, but Duck has to fly south. The others are too busy to listen, too. Is anyone still awake to listen to his story? Hardcover, 9.5 x 8.75 inches, 32 pages, ages 2 to 6, $16.99.
There are plenty of titles for cat lovers. I really enjoyed "Tabby McTat, the Musical Cat" by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Tabby McTat is a busker's cat -- he and his human pal, Fred, sing on the sidewalk for the public. One day, they are separated by a dramatic event, and Tabby goes on to find a home and become the father of three handsome kittens. But he still misses Fred. Yes, there is a happy ending. The brightly colored illustrations have plenty of details for young and curious eyes to investigate. Hardcover, 8.6 x 10.8 inches, 32 pages, ages 4 to 8, $16.99.
"Tumford's Rude Noises" by Nancy Tillman is a follow-up to "Tumford the Terrible," written in rhyme. Tumford the cat likes to makes noises -- slurping, giggling, burping and worse -- just for attention. But he must learn that not all attention is good; there is a time and place (in private) for noises. But no matter what, he's still loved. Hardcover, 10 x 10 inches, 32 pages, ages 4 to 6, $16.99.
"Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons" was created and illustrated by James Dean, with a story by Eric Litwin, as part of the Pete the Cat series. Pete's back, singing about his favorite shirt with its four big, round, groovy buttons. When the buttons pop off, one by one, "Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! Buttons come and buttons go. He kept on singing his song." These are great fun to read to kids and let them sing along with you. The "official" melodies can be found at the Harper website, but why not make up your own? Hardcover, 8.75 x 11.25 inches, 32 pages, ages 3 to 7, $16.99.
For dog lovers, cartoonist Harry Bliss has created "Bailey at the Museum." Bailey the dog is excited to go with the children on their school trip to the natural history museum. He climbs up the dinosaur skeleton (and tries to chew on the bones), makes friends with the museum guard, inspects the exhibits, and comes home with a gift from his new friend. Hardcover, 11.3 x 10.2 inches, 32 pages, ages 3 to 6, $16.99.
"The Fairy Dogfather" by Alexandra Day is pretty funny. Hector hears a story about Cinderella's fairy godmother, and he wonders whether boys have fairy godfathers. So he writes a request to his fairy godfather but, mixing his g's and d's, he ends up with a Fairy Dogfather -- a humorous, hungry, cigar-smoking dogfather who speaks in large words. Hector has lost the money for his mother's present, and he'd like the Dogfather to help him. Hardcover, 10.7 x 8.4 inches, 32 pages, ages 6 to 10, $15.95. (Even better: Day's "Good Dog, Carl" series.)
"Curious Critters" by David FitzSimmons isn't a story; it's a book of outstanding color photographs of animals -- some very familiar -- photographed up close on a plain, white background. Each animal (frog, bat, snake, goldfish, spider) "talks" to the reader. The goldfish says, "Let's play a game: I'll flip my fins and swim around in this aquarium, and you throw in some food. Sound good? Great!" There are 21 animals in all, in BIG, close-up pictures. Did you know a crayfish can grow new legs? How much does a bat weigh? It's really fascinating. Hardcover, 11 x 9.5 inches, 32 pages, ages 4 to 8, $19.95.
Copyright 2012 by Mary Louise Ruehr.