My Friend is Sad is an Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems (of The Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny fame). It stars elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie. Gerald looks sad, so Piggie decides to cheer him up. She disguises herself as a cowboy (Gerald loves cowboys), but he is still sad. She dresses up like a clown (a funny, funny clown), but that doesn’t work either! Piggie enters in full robot costume (a cool, cool robot mind you), but Gerald seems even more depressed than he was originally. Finally Piggie tries to reason with Gerald, but as soon as he catches sight of her he is instantly happy! He gives her a big hug and tells her all the amazing things he just saw. How could one be sad around a cowboy, clown, or robot, Piggie wonders, but Gerald lets her know all those great things mean nothing without a best friend to share them with!
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein is a book with many layers, much like its collage art illustrations by Ed Young. On the surface it’s the story of a cat named Wabi Sabi, who is trying to discover the meaning of her name, but underneath it is influenced by Zen philosophy. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept which finds beauty in things that are simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. This explains why everyone the cat asks tells her “it’s hard to explain,” why the city she walks through is not as pretty as the woods that surround it, and why she finally understands the meaning of her name when she sees herself, plain but beautiful, in the reflection of a wooden bowl of warm tea.
The Water Hole by Graeme Base is a really amazing book. In essence it’s a counting story: animals show up in progressive numbers to drink from “the water hole.” However it seems the more animals there are, the less water in the hole, leaving them to converse amongst themselves (in animal language) where they think the water must have gone. Then there is a very sad page depicting a complete lack of water. Finally it rains and all the animals return to drink. I think the story can be thought provoking for a child (where does water come from, why is it important, etc), and the illustrations are spectacular, depicting not only the drinking animals but also “hidden” animals you and your child can search for.
A Mama for Owen, written by Marion Dane Bauer, is a charming story of a baby hippopotamus named Owen who loses his mother during a storm and is adopted by a 130 year old tortoise. It’s based on a true story! After a tsunami, in 2004, a baby hippo was rescued by Kenyan fishermen and taken to the Haller Park wildlife preserve. Upon his arrival, the hippo began following around an ancient male tortoise named Mzee, and Mzee didn’t seem to mind at all! This strange pair became best friends, subsequently garnering a lot of media attention. To this day tourists come from across the globe to witness the unique relationship between these mis-matched animals. A Mama for Owen features adorable illustrations by John Butler and is a truly heartwarming story for children 1-5.