The multitude of unlikely fictional animal friends populating stories continues to grow. A variety of recently published children’s books explore friendship with great sensitivity and nuance. One of my favorites is the lovely, bittersweet City Dog, Country Frog by the prolific author Mo Willems. The friendship begins one spring afternoon, with Country Frog teaching his friend games that “involve jumping and splashing and croaking.” City Dog, in turn, teaches the frog games that “involve sniffing and fetching and barking.”
Willems follows the pair throughout a year, delineating how each responds to the changing seasons. In the fall, when Country Frog feels tired, the dog suggests they play “remembering games.” Jon Muth’s lovely watercolor painting shows the two sitting on a rock, with glorious autumn-gold trees reflected in the lake. Above, the clouds show vague dog and frog shapes, leaping and playing. Winter brings solitude for the dog, as he can’t find Country Frog anywhere. Muth’s double-spread illustration shows the lonely City Dog, surrounded by a frozen blue lake and a quiet, looming forest.
When spring comes again, City Dog is looking for a friend and again meets an unexpected one. The open-ended denouement provides opportunities for readers and adults to discuss what might have happened to the frog and, more importantly, to ponder the nature of friendship and the passage of time.
Willems features two other unusual, appealing animal friends in his humorous easy-reader Elephant and Piggie series.
What are some of your favorite unlikely animal friends? Here are a few more outstanding ones:
Keller, Holly. Farfallina & Marcel. Harper, 2002. Lovely story traces the friendship of a caterpillar (farfallina means “little butterfly” in Italian) and a gosling. Science teachers can use this sweet picture book to teach life cycles. 2003 Charlotte Zolotow Award.
Rodriguez, Béatrice. The Chicken Thief and Fox and Hen Together and the just-published Rooster’s Revenge. Enchanted Lion. 2010 and 2011. This strikingly original trilogy explores the unpredictable and changing nature of friendship — without using words. Rodriguez packs an enormous amount of expression and surprise in these picture books, sure to spur a range of conversations about relationships and life itself.
If you’re looking for longer works featuring animals, pick up nearly any of the wonderful ones by Dick King-Smith. You’ve heard of Babe, but have you met Three Terrible Trins or one of my favorites, Lady Lollipop? Hop on over to the library, friends, for some good-natured novels that beg to be read aloud!