Claude: The True Story of a White Alligator by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Jennifer M. Potter (9781632172693)
Claude hatched out of an egg in a Louisiana swamp with his siblings. Unlike them though, he was white rather than green. His different color made him easy prey for predators in the swamp and his siblings also were uneasy around him. The owner of the alligator farm gave the little alligator to a special zoo in Florida. At that zoo, he was safe but all alone. He lived that way for 13 years until a museum in California wanted him to come and live with them. They had another alligator name Bonnie, but Bonnie did not get along with Claude and bit him in the foot. Afterwards, Claude had to have surgery to remove one of his toes and took weeks to recover. When he returned, he was alone again in his pen except for the snapping turtles, and then something wonderful happened.
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of the beloved white alligator who charmed museum-goers in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences. The focus of the book is on Claude’s well-being and the care he received throughout his life to keep him safe. The need for him to have contact with other animals is also a feature as zookeepers struggle to provide that full life for him. Written in frank and simple language, this book nicely balances the amount of text per page, making it a book that can be shared aloud with preschoolers.
Potter’s illustrations offer a cartoon-like look at Claude and his life. Some pages like Bonnie eying up Claude before attacking him are menacing, while others are filled with a gentle joy as Claude finds animals he can live with. Claude pops on the page as a white creature, showing just how special and unique he was.
A friendly look at an interesting animal who found a home that was safe and supportive. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Bigfoot.
Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing (9780823443185)
Fred and Helen wanted a baby and planned for one, but never got one. So when Fred, a zookeeper, brought home a tiny lion cub, Helen’s supplies came in very handy. She had bottles to let him slurp, blankets to wrap him warm, supplies to wash him, and a crib for him to sleep in. But when the lion was two months old, he got sent to a zoo in another city. Helen packed up the baby items and spent lonely days with no baby to care for until the three tiger cubs arrived. With feedings every three hours, the cubs grew quickly and soon were causing mischief. Finally, they returned to the zoo at three months old, but this time Helen would not be left behind. Soon Helen found herself an empty storehouse that she turned into a nursery for baby animals, becoming the first woman zookeeper!
Fleming tells a wistful and factual story here, allowing the more remarkable elements to be wondered at by readers. It is amazing that Helen was not only willing to take in these little creatures but also very skilled at it. Many of us can care for human children, but ones with sharp teeth and claws would be daunting. Fleming simply appreciates the dedication, skill and tenacity of this woman, shining a spotlight on someone who was inventing it all as she went along.
Downing’s illustrations are soaked in the time period of the 1940’s by showing cars, fashion and home decor. The book wisely uses panels to show the different moments of caring for the animals, distress at their leaving, and planning to create something new. The panels break up the text for young readers and also give a jaunty comic vibe.
An engaging look at a remarkable woman with a knack for caring for little wild creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Holiday House.
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)
Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.
Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.
A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.
What Do They Do with All That Poo? By Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Allison Black (9781481479868)
Anyone working with children and books knows that the rather naughty subjects of poop, peeing and farting are some of the most popular. In this book, science is mixed in as well, showing what zoos do with all of the animal poop they have. First the book explains what poo is, then moves into showing different types of animal poop like giraffe, panda, hippo and elephant. The book then goes on to explain that most of the poop heads to landfills after being loaded into trucks. Some poop goes to labs for scientists to examine. Some is made into compost for gardens. And interestingly, sometimes paper is made from elephant poo!
Kurtz explains in a matter-of-fact way the various animals and how they poo and then handle their poop. The hippo splattering its poop around is gross but interesting, something that basically sums up this book. Kurtz doesn’t shy away from the grosser parts, but also keeps her focus on facts and science in the book. The illustrations are bright and friendly, despite all of the poop on the pages. Animals are shown in their zoo habitats and then their poop is also shown with them.
An interesting and scientific look at poos in zoos. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green (InfoSoup)
The zoo where Hippo lives is run down and doesn’t get many visitors at all. His friend Red Panda suggests that Hippo join him in the human world and get a job. The two of them put on hard hats and try their hands at construction. Hippo discovers that he is quite good at building, but he doesn’t build the expected skyscraper. The two then try being hair dressers with similar results, though Hippo does find that he’s quite good at it. They put on chef hats and work in a restaurant kitchen where Hippo creates a pasta masterpiece and Red Panda creates a mess. They go on to try being bankers and dentists and many other jobs until they head back to the zoo on one of their day’s off. Hippo decides to returns to the zoo and discovers that he may just have the exact skills needed to help the zoo return in style.
Green’s dismal zoo with limp animals quickly turns into an active story about different jobs, wild and wonderful ways to screw them up, visual gags, and plenty of laughs. The ending of the book is entirely satisfying, even as readers realize where it is headed. It is a pleasure to watch it play out visually and see Hippo come into his own with his myriad of skills.
The illustrations in this graphic novel are welcoming and fun. Filled with bright colors and plenty of action, they have a wonderful feel to them. Especially effective are the images done in series with Red Panda and then Hippo trying hat after hat and job after job. The entire book is filled with a jolly humor.
Funny and lighthearted, this book also has a cheerful depth to it which is immensely satisfying. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Dad at the Zoo by Coralie Saudo, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (InfoSoup)
This is the sequel to My Dad Is Big and Strong, But… which was a wonderful French import. This second book is equally dynamic and successful, continuing the role reversal between father and child in the first book. Here, the father and son head to the zoo together, because Dad just can’t wait to go there. He has trouble waiting in line without bouncing everywhere. Then he has to go to the bathroom. He has a melt down about not having any ice cream until his son distracts him with a porcupine. Even leaving the zoo is tricky, since Dad is sure to want a toy from the souvenir shop even when his son says no.
This book like the first has a gorgeous sense of humor throughout. The dynamic between father and son is reversed completely and children will get the humor effortlessly as they see their own potential behavior play out in an adult. The humor is never mean and always zany, creating a feeling that will make everyone smile.
Di Giacomo’s illustrations add to that zany humor as the very large father figure dwarfs his son on every page. Even his interactions at the zoo are played for laughs as he poses with his arm around the flamingos. The illustrations use subtle color and a cartoon style to create their own unique feel.
A great read aloud that is just right for any family, particularly after an outing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion.
Fur, Fins and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell
As a child, Abraham loved animals. He read all about them, even as he started working as a curator at the Museum of Natural History. As a child he also saw the way that animals were treated, lined up in small cages where they could barely move as people paid to view them. Abraham’s exhibits drew the attention of the members of the London Zoological Society and when they discovered his broad knowledge of animals, they asked him to be the next superintendent of the zoo. Abraham found innovative and kind ways to work with injured animals. He also began labeling exhibits with information about the animals in addition to their names. He figured out that animals need specific diets. Finally, he began to expand the way that the animals were kept, creating larger enclosures filled with trees, where the animals were healthier and people could still view them.
Maxwell has written a captivating biography of Bartlett that focuses on the way that his personal interest in animals led him to revolutionize zoos. Young readers will be dismayed and startled to see the small cages animals were kept in and as the book progresses, they will see the transformation to the modern zoos they know today.
The cut-paper art has an old-fashioned feel that beautifully conveys the 19th century time period. Maxwell incorporates small details of fashion and decor that firmly keep the setting in the past. There are clever touches of other papers with special textures or patterns that make the illustrations worth looking at closely.
A clever and fascinating biography of the man who created modern zoos, this book would be a welcome read for any class before a trip to the zoo. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
A Possum’s Tail by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
Little Samuel Drew walks along the streets of London pulling his toy dog behind him, headed in one particular direction. He passes all sorts of people, markets, even Buckingham Palace on his way to London Zoo. He sees many different animals in the zoo, but it’s the possum family in particular that he’s come to visit. But when he gets there, they are all hanging upside down by their tails, fast asleep. So Samuel heads back home again, not noticing that the possum family has woken up and have grabbed hold of the dog’s tail and are all five following along behind. Once home after creating chaos on the London streets, Samuel serves tea to the possums. But wait! How will they get back to the zoo? Another kind of tail to the rescue.
Dawnay has written this book in rhyming couplets that skip along merrily. The pacing is brisk and the humor is whimsical and deliciously drawn out as Samuel fails to see the possums until he reaches home. There is a delightful moment as Samuel returns homeward and passes the same people going the other way. The text repeats itself again in a lively way, echoing the journey that Samuel made to the zoo.
Barrow’s illustrations add to the joy of the journeys to and fro. He first shows the bustling London streets in a straight forward way, then on the return trip the possums cause quite an uproar, though Samuel doesn’t notice at all. Children will love looking at both sets of pictures and seeing the differences even though the words remain the same. The illustrations have a vintage feel with Samuel in a sailor suit and the dog on a string that hearkens to books like Madeleine.
A clever cheerful read that explores London with humor and whimsy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Tate.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo
When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play. They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked. Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd. Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth. After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king. Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king. But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too. This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.
Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out. He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially.
Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic. He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth. Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually. This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.
A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.