Kid's Stuff -- Books About The Zoo
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"The Happy Lion"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1954)

Joining Babar, Curious George and Crictor in the annals of wild-animals-that-are-happier-in-civilization books, The Happy Lion is a thoroughly satisfying, funny story about a friendly lion living in the zoo in a small French town. The lion is beloved by all the townspeople until one day when he discovers his cage has been left open and decides to go on a little jaunt, then finds out how thin the veneer of polite society can be: all his human friends (except one) completely freak out, and the gendarmes are about to forcibly bring the beast to heel when young Francois, the lion's best friend, innocently approaches the lion and walks him back to his cage. This is a thoroughly charming story, with a fine sense of humor, economical writing and a strong dramatic arc (made all the better by the anticlimactic ending) and appealing artwork from Duvoisin. I'd say it's a winner! (B+)

"The Happy Lion Roars"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1957)

Our feline hero returns, though this time he's a little sad... Spring is in the air, and the Happy Lion realizes that while all the other animals in the zoo have mates, he does not. This sad situation is remedied during a visit to the circus, where the lion meets and falls in love with a beautiful lioness who can leap through flaming hoops... and steal the heart of the king of the jungle! When she runs away from the circus, the whole town comes looking for her... But when zey feegure out zat zee lion ees love, ze French townspeople work things out so that she can join the zoo, instead. Then the Happy Lion is happy again (if you know what I mean...) and so are the folks in town. In a certain respect, this is a more blunt representation of romantic love than most picturebooks you'll see -- not that it's graphic in any way, but parents may want to factor that in with the littlest readers -- but also of the lion's devotion to his partner. While not as smooth a narrative as the first book, this is a nice addition to the Happy Lion series. Recommended! (B-)

"The Happy Lion And The Bear"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1964)

When the zoo gains another alpha-male animal -- a big, growling bear -- the Happy Lion finds himself struggling to get along with his new neighbor. Despite his best intentions, the two beasts wind up growling and picking fights with each other every time they set eyes on one another. The smaller animals try to cool things down, as does Francois, the zookeeper's son, who likes both of the big brutes. It isn't until Francois slips and has an accident that the two animals find common purpose, and after they help the boy get to the hospital, they realize how silly they had been before. The text is a little clunky, and the animosity between the lion and the bear may be a little troubling for younger readers. But if you're already on the "Happy Lion" bandwagon, this is a fine entry into the series... Not as charming as the first book, but still a good read. (B-)

Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Candace Whitman
(Mondo Publishing, 1996)

A nice animals-in-the-zoo story which also functions as a daddy book, since he takes the kids to the zoo. The text isn't Fox's strongest work, but overall this is a very colorful, appealing book, with bright artwork and a lively pace. One page is troubling, as it refers to how one baby animal "got a smack"... It takes a while to figure out that she meant a kiss and not a spanking... Other than that, this one's okay. (B-)

"Be Nice To Spiders"
Written by Margaret Bloy Graham
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper Collins, 1967)

An orphaned spider named Helen finds her calling in life clearing out the flies from the local zoo. After she moves in and builds webs in all the cages, she gives much-needed relief to all the previously pestered animals. The human zookeepers aren't quite as clued in, though, and when the mayor announces that he will soon visit the zoo, the appearance-obsessed staff goes on the warpath against poor Helen and her cobwebs. After the flies come back and the animals are once again totally miserable, the keepers realize their mistake and welcome Helen back as a hero. A great story, both in its tone (goofy, amicably early-'60sish anti-authoritarianism) and in its message of compassion for animals and respect for unforseen ecological outcomes. Fun book! (A)

"If Anything Ever Goes Wrong At The Zoo"
Written by Mary Jean Hendrick
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
(Harcourt Brace & Co., 1993)

Leslie and her mom go to the zoo every Saturday, and each week the girl talks to a different zookeeper, asking if she could have a zebra, a monkey, an elephant... And each time, when the zookeeper replies that the animals have to stay at the zoo, Leslie replies that, "if anything ever goes wrong at the zoo..." they can bring them to her house. Well, of course, one day something does go wrong, a massive flood of Biblical proportions send the zookeepers up the hill to Leslie's house, where the monkeys can play on the swingset and the alligators swim in the bath. After the weather clears up and the animals go home, we get the book's real payoff: Leslie's mom calmly sitting down with her and telling her to ask her first before she invites friends over. The artwork has a faint whiff of the stiffness that comes with photo-realist efforts, paintings modeled on photographs, but not so much that it greatly interferes with the charm of the story. A nice twist on the old zoo book formula... recommended! (B+)

"Bouncing Time"
Written by Patricia Hubbell
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(Harper Collins, 2000)

A fun, lively, colorful celebration of bouncing and bounciful energy. Bounce, bounce, bounce go the children, all the way to the zoo and back. The animals bounce too, and then it's back home and time for bed. Doesn't sound like much when it's written on the page, but the finished product is a lot of fun to read, very fluid and dynamic. Also, I love Melissa Sweet's artwork... she's got the magic touch. Great book for little, little kids. (B+)

Written by Joelle Jolivet
Illustrated by Joelle Jolivet
(Roaring Brook Press, 2002)

A spectacular, deluxe-size book with eye-popping animal illustrations that will immediately draw kids of all ages into its spell. Each giant-sized two-page spread features a different zoological theme -- beasts that have horns, animals with feathers, critters that like the cold, etc. -- with beautiful woodcut-style pictures of a couple dozen or so animals, each identified by name. Indeed, it's a classic, old-fashioned natural history book, brilliantly simplified and given a kid-friendly twist. Yeah, sure I know these kind of taxonomies are out of date in the scientific community, but they sure do make for compelling reading. (And when they make a book about DNA comparisons that has equal visual appeal, let me know...) Seriously, though -- your child will love this book. It's awesome. (A)

"Put Me In The Zoo"
Written by Robert Lopshire
Illustrated by Robert Lopshire
(Beginner Books, 1960)

A nice entry into the "fake Dr. Seuss books" series... This features a big, gallumphing, polka-dotted -- um... dog? kangaroo? -- who visits the zoo and decides it looks like a pretty cushy job. When he demands entry, though, the zookeepers put him out on his ears, whereupon he complains bitterly to two children who witnessed the whole sad spectacle. When he insists he should be let into the zoo, they ask why, and he proceeds to demonstrate, in rhyme, the magical powers he has that he thinks wouldmake him a great zoo attraction. I'm not wild about this book, though it's okay. My kid, though, really enjoyed it -- so, there you go. It's a hit. (B)

"Emma In Charge"
Written by David McPhail
Illustrated by David McPhail
(Dutton, 2005)

Revisiting the little girl-bear from Emma's Pet, McPhail paints a lovely picture of daily play in a toddler's life. In the morning, Emma rounds up some of her dolls, feeds them breakfast, takes them to "school" and even to the "zoo" (where they see their gray, fluffy housecat snoozing on an armchair). Emma's fantasy life is easily recognizable and completely genuine... You'll feel all warm and fuzzy reading this one, and the littlest readers will love it, too. (B)

"We're Going To The Zoo"
Written by Tom Paxton
Illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
(Harper Collins, 1996)

Wheeeee...! Wahoo...!! We'll see the lions and tigers and bears and the kangaroo will jump out of its pen and hang out with us for a while. Another fine kid's book from folksinger Tom Paxton; this was a fave around our house for a few weeks, and then we wound up singing several of the verses on a subsequent trip to the zoo. (An experience I usually find depressing, but having this book to refer back to helped make it more fun...) After a couple of weeks reading this, we were primed to go along singing it on our next zoo trip... (A)

"And Tango Makes Three"
Written by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
Illustrated by Henry Cole
(Simon & Schuster, 2005)

A zoo book with a twist...! This is the true-life story of two gay penguins (named Silo and Roy) living in the Central Park Zoo who went through all the typical penguin mating rituals and built a nest together, but were thwarted when they tried to have a baby. A thoughtful zookeeper gave them a foundling egg, which they dutifully sat on and hatched. Then they raised the chick, named Tango, and taught her all the little things a penguin must learn (like swimming, eating raw fish and looking cute). This is a great book for same-sex parents who have adopted or artificially inseminated -- some other books tackle the "two dads/two moms" issue, but few are as enchanting and as authoritative as this one. Recommended! (A)

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