Unlikely Pets in Picture Books

How many picture books involve animals of some kind? Way too many to count! After “things that go” (cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc.), “animals” is probably the most popular picture book category, although that category is admittedly broad. From personified animals to animal sounds to animals who don’t fit in, and much more, it’s hard to pick up a picture book and not find a furry or scaly or toothy creature involved in some way.

Under the umbrella of “books about animals,” we see a new category manifesting itself, and it’s one that we enjoy immensely: picture books about unlikely pets.


Getting a pet is one of those universal life experiences that almost everyone encounters in their childhood. From the tiniest goldfish to the biggest dog, pets can be a great addition to the family, providing loyal companions and lifelong friends as well as opportunities for lessons about responsibility. Every kid has an idea in his or her head about what it’s like to have a pet; so what happens when the pet in question isn’t quite what you expected?

It makes for a great story, that’s for sure! Below are some of our favorite picture books about unlikely or unexpected pets. These animal friends might not look like much at first to their human counterparts, but you never know—they might surprise you (and almost always do!). (Click the cover images for more information.)


Sparky by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans

It starts innocently enough. A little girl asks for a pet. Her mom says she can have any pet she wants, “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” After a brief bit of research, the girl finds the answer, and Sparky the sloth arrives in the mail. Winner of the Charlotte Zolotow award, Sparky! is a story about learning to accept people (and pets) just the way they are—and we challenge you not to fall in love with Appelhans’s illustrations of the furry, wide-eyed Sparky.


Not Norman by Kelly Bennett & Noah Z. Jones

This little boy would take ANYTHING for a pet—just not Norman. Norman is a fish, and he doesn’t do much other than swim. Disappointed, the boy decides to trade Norman in for a different pet. But then he realizes: is it possible that Norman can do more than he thought? A perfect book for celebrating a classic “first pet.”


The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

For her birthday this year, little warrior Princess Pinecone wants a horse. A big, fast, strong horse! What she gets instead is a chubby little pony that’s too small to even ride properly. When the day of the big battle arrives, Princess Pinecone is worried—but her pony has a secret weapon that just might help them win the battle. From the hilarious creator of Hark! A Vagrant comes a silly, sweet story for horse lovers (and warriors) everywhere.


A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

The ad says, “Unicorn, 25 cents.” How does anyone pass up a deal like that? Lucy sends in her money and patiently awaits the arrival of her unicorn. But when he finally arrives, he’s not quite what she expected: more of a goat with a horn on his head. After her initial disappointment, Lucy names him Sparkle, and discovers that even though he might not be the unicorn she had in mind, he’s still her unicorn—and that’s what matters.


I Won a What? by Audrey Vernick & Robert Neubecker

This whale of a tale is entertaining to the end! At the carnival, one little boy’s parents promise him he can keep whatever he wins at the goldfish booth. Sure enough, he wins the game—but goes home with a whale! A whale named Nuncio! Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, and the family takes the whale home with them. It’s an adjustment, to be sure, but soon it’s hard to imagine life without Nuncio.


Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

Lucy the bear is out playing in the woods one day when she comes across a most adorable creature. The creature in question is a child, and Lucy begs her parents to let her keep him. Her mother finally gives in, but with a warning: “Children make terrible pets.” Lucy scoffs; how much trouble could one child possibly be? The answer: more than she bargained for! Young readers will get a kick out of seeing a relatable situation turned on its head (an animal having a pet human?!), but will also recognize the difficulties Lucy faces in caring for her “pet.”

What are some of your favorite books about pets? Tell us in the comments below!

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