Few children do not like animals. Our Budster is no exclusion, and we have been encouraging his interest whole-heartedly with a variety of colourful books (from Mommy) and many captivating animal sounds (from Daddy). Once in a while, we would also take a trip to the zoo. The first time we went, Budster was nine months old, and we headed toward Toronto. The trip there took a couple of hours, but it was worth it. The Toronto zoo was the biggest zoo I have been to. We have walked steadily for three hours, and we still did not get to see quite a few animals before it closed. On a bright side, animals had a lot of space, and the zoo left a very pleasant impression.
Later we discovered that there is a closer zoo, in Buffalo, NY. This is where we headed last week, taking our passports and crossing the border.
It was a smaller zoo, but there were several big animals, like an elephant, a couple of giraffes, and a couple of rhinoceroses. I was fascinated by a family of gorillas. One of them had a baby last fall, and the baby was holding on Mommy’s back, as she moved around the pavilion. Actually, there were quite a few baby animals around. I have never visited a zoo in the spring before, and it was nice. Unfortunately, some of the animals seem to be in need of more space. Construction work was in progress, so hopefully there would be an improvement in the future. Indeed, one of the new buildings had a lot of cheerful birds and monkeys, kept together, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Budster got scared of an elephant, called an anteater a dog, and had a lot of fun, playing in the barn. Of course, he also watched animals with fascination. Truth to tell, it was hard to say whether he was interested in animals or people more. We live in a small town, and seeing a lot of people is a treat to him.
Going to the zoo has strengthened his interest in animals, bringing new meaning to words and pictures he enjoyed before. So we took out our animal books.
The book that has been with us longest is Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle. I have already given a brief review to this book when I wrote about Out First Favourite Books. This book is very similar to Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See, but instead of appealing to visual sense, it describes the sound different animals make. We have got it when Budster was three months old, and since then this book has never been put away for long. I find some electronic toys for children confusing, but this book is one of those few we all enjoy. It has a small speaker, and when the child presses the button, it plays the animal sound, illustrating leopard snarling, peacock yelping, etc.
My First Book of Animals is one of those books I would have never chosen as a gift for a baby before having one. There are many similar books available these days: photographs of different objects and their names written underneath. It does not look very engaging to an adult, but it seems to bring endless entertainment to children. The book was lying in the basket, and I seldom reached for it, but Budster wanted to look at it again and again, recognizing characters of his other stories or prototypes of his toys. He pointed at animals and asked to hear their names. Now that he is starting to speak, he is proud to name a couple himself, while demanding more and more words. It is a good book for long drives or waiting in line at the doctor’s office because by the time we reach the last page, we have discussed hundred of animals.
Tails by Mathew van Fleet, as follows from the title, speaks about tails more than their owners, but that is easy to correct. You will not be able to get away without naming the animals, since there are quite a few exotic ones in this book, and even experienced animal lovers might meet a pangolin or a bush baby for the first time. However there are some old friends as well: pigs and squirrels, crocodiles and skunks. To describe such a variety of tails author plays with antonymous adjectives, comparing long and stumpy, broad and slinky tails. Like other van Fleet’s books, this one features a number of tabs to pull and bits of fur to touch, for the entertainment of all ages. On one of the pages, you will find a scratch-and-smell skunk’s tale, but I have got to confess: I have not dared yet.
When I saw Color Surprises by Chuck Murphy for the first time, I was surprised at how small it was, being accustomed to big pop-up books with complicated mechanisms hidden between the pages. This book, however, keeps its charm by being simple and cute. Every page has a coloured square, and under it lives an animal of the corresponding colour: a pink flamingo and a brown monkey, a green snake and a blue parrot. That’s why, despite the fact that the book is meant to teach colours, I think that Budster has remembered many of the animals from its pages. He loves going through it and opening the flaps, and for a while, Color Surprises held a status of his firm favourite. The book is so engaging that I have not got another book on colours for Budster, thinking that if this book does not make an impression on him, no other will. However, the topic of zoo animals only starts here.
These are the books that can be considered non-fiction, while a few of our favourite stories revolve around zoo animals as well.
We gave Dear Zoo to Budster after visiting Toronto zoo, and it has become a quick favourite. The story follows a straightforward plot and uses a simple language. A mysterious man is searching for a perfect pet and requesting it from the zoo. He gets a lot of exotic companions before settling for a good old puppy. The strong point of the books is lift-the-flaps in the shapes of boxes. Even a very small child can become part of the story, opening them to find what animal hides beneath.
Monkey Puzzle (known as Where’s My Mom? in the USA) by Julia Donaldson was at one point Budster’s top pick for reading. He would spot it and bring to read again and again. The exclusivity of the book did not last for more than a couple of weeks, but we still enjoy reading it. In the book, a butterfly helps a monkey to find his Mom, based on his descriptions. “My mom is big”, or “my mom is furry and nice to cuddle”. Unfortunately, the butterfly repeatedly gets it wrong, leading the monkey to an elephant, a parrot, a spider, a bat, and a frog. After the little monkey is brought to the elephant for the second time, he exclaims.
“Butterfly, butterfly, can’t you see? None of these creatures looks like me!”
“You never told me she looked like you”.
“Of course, I didn’t! I thought you knew.”
But butterflies and their babies do not look alike, and readers get a small lesson in biology. Meanwhile, the monkey finds his Mom, and the story gets to a happy ending.
Finally, Good Night, Gorilla is one of Budster’s latest favourites. The book has been lying in his basket for many months, but it was over the last several weeks that Budster got attracted to it. A zookeeper goes around the zoo before heading home and wishes good night to animals. As he passes a gorilla’s cage, a mischievous primate steals a chain of keys from the zookeeper’s pocket. The gorilla frees other animals, and all of them follow the zookeeper to his house to camp around his bedroom for the night. Will he notice them or not?
The story uses very few words. It is made in a comic style with different characters wishing good night to each other and their words appearing in speech bubbles. The rest is up to the reader. So I tell the story anew every time, and it is surprisingly fun. Sometimes I give names to the zookeeper and his wife, and other times I do not. Sometimes I tell this story in English, and other times it becomes Russian. There are many possibilities, and I imagine that Budster will add to them when he tells his own story to me. He must be working on it, as he often sits down with this book and intently looks at pictures.
Do you have a zoo around where you live? Is it big or small? What books about zoo animals do your children like? Please, share your experience with us, and if you want to stay updated on other stories from Adventure in a Box, consider visiting our Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram pages. Thank you for reading!