The best stories are true stories.

Yes, I know I've said that many times before. Three new picture books prove me right all over again.

"Pennies for Elephants" by Lita Judge is based on the true story of how the children of Boston raised $6,000 to buy the first elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. The Boston Post acknowledged every contribution from 1 cent up. From the book jacket: "This uplifting story is an inspiring example of what children can accomplish when they put their hearts and minds together." It also documents, in illustrations and text what life was like in 1914. City streets, the clothing, the cars and the prices are all an integral part of the story. Children in 2010 are astonished to learn that children in 1914 paid only a nickel to go to a movie and charged only 14 cents to wash 14 windows. This book is a gem for children ages 4-7.

"Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire" by Claudia Friddell will appeal to children ages 5-8, especially horse and history enthusiasts. Even before humans detected the fire and sounded the alarm, Goliath was unusually restless on that windy Sunday afternoon in 1904. He could smell the fire and was impatient to be on his way to put it out. After 55 straight hours of battling the blaze that destroyed 140 acres of the city, the firemen returned to their station. Goliath, badly burned in the blaze, returned 6 months later. For the rest of his life, he was honored for his acts of heroism. The book closes with an "Afterward" and a list of "Fire Terms." There is also a free teacher's guide available online.

"Lola and Tiva: An Unlikely Friendship" by Juliana, Isabella and Craig Hatkoff is a picture book in the Scholastic "Developing Reader" series for grades 1 and 2. The color photos and the subject content are so whimsically compelling that this book interests children ages 3-7. Tiva is a little girl who lives on a nature conservancy in Kenya, where she isn't allowed to have a dog. Lola, a baby rhinoceros, is endangered because her mother is blind and can't take care of her. As the introduction says, " 'Lola and Tiva' is the living metaphor of every young animal lover's dream: to feed, take care of, keep company, and yes, even roll around in the mud with a wild beast who you then put to bed at night and tuck in with their favorite blanket." Warning to parents: After reading this book, your child will be begging for her own rhino.

So the best stories are true stories, and some of the best true stories are stories about animals.

Contact Fran Hawk at franbooks@yahoo.com.