So, I took my family to see Zootopia last weekend and we loved it. In addition to the humor and the heart-warming moments, I think it also manages to say some pretty profound things about race and prejudice, but packaged as a cute talking animal movie. Maybe the talking animal genre (usually, but not exclusively, in children’s literature) serves a similar purpose as science fiction: it’s a sort of mask you can put on the real world to make it easier for the audience to handle tough questions.
Okay, not always. But here are a pile of animal books–mostly picture books for the wee ones–that seemed particularly zootopical at the moment.
Let’s start with this one. If you liked Zootopia and (like me) you love seeing what goes into making a movie, you’ll love this book. It’s filled with concept art and stories about how the movie came to be: for instance, it started off as a spy caper featuring a bunny spy. There’s so much thought that went into the design of everything from buildings to vehicles to clothing, and this book gives you the opportunity to get a closer look at it all. There’s a chapter on each of the sections of Zootopia, like Tundratown and Little Rodentia–perfect for poring over those blink-and-you-missed-it details from the film.
The movie does have some scary moments, which you might not expect from the trailers, but thanks to this book I was forewarned. This storybook has most of the main plot points (cutting out some of the lesser characters and subplots), so my toddler was already familiar with the story before we went to see the movie, and I think that went a long way toward keeping her from getting too frightened. The illustrations are based on specific scenes from the movie, but aren’t just screenshots, which is nice. And there’s a CD (with a “turn the page” sound) that includes sound effects and the voices straight from the movie.
The one downside: if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this book pretty much gives away all the surprise twists in the plot.
For another story in the world of Zootopia, check out this picture book, which tells the story of Judy Hopps as she helps Ernie the elephant track down his missing Jumbo-Pop. It’s a funny story that takes you through many of the fun locations in Zootopia, but it’s a story that isn’t part of the movie at all. The illustrations are more stylized (but still recognizable) versions of the animals, and the story is written for younger kids. (Although “clothing optional” Naturalist Club they pass by on the train may be a little harder to explain…)
This picture book has few words to it, but it’s a lot of wordplay. A bunch of animals board a rocket and launch into space, and each animal’s action is a play on the last syllable of its name: “Monkey turns the key. Condor opens door.” And so on. It’s not a very complex story, but the rhyming and repetition will be fun for toddlers and the pictures are a lot of fun.
Another one about wordplay, this one is all about animal names that are also verbs. Cranes crane, badgers badger, and steers steer, all with delightful illustrations. Each page also gives the verb definition of the word, in case you need a little more explanation than the picture provides. Great for readers who like animals and puns.
And while we’re on the subject of wordplay and silly rhymes (and yaks), here’s another one about animals and watercraft. Yak kayaks, and Gnu canoes. They think they’re unique, but along come more animals: a goat in a boat, a stout pig afloat on an outrigger boat, and even more ridiculous animals on their rhyming vehicles.
Bruce the bear just wants some free-range organic goose eggs for breakfast–but then they hatch, and the goslings think he’s their mother. Grumpy Bruce tries to get rid of them, but eventually resigns himself to raising them properly. I loved this book not only for its illustrations, but because of the understated humor in the text, and the funny juxtapositions of animals with human behavior (much like a particular recent movie). A great book for grumpy people.
Given the current state of American politics, voting for a Giant Squid may not be a terrible choice. Squid wants to be YOUR president. He’s got all the right qualities: he wears a tie, he loves talking, and he’s big and bossy. The pictures are by Sara Varon (also known for her graphic novels like Robot Dreams and Bake Sale) and are a great match for Squid’s out-sized personality.
This one I really should have reviewed a while back, but it got stuck in a stack. Hermelin is a little mouse who notices that the residents of Offley Street are in need of a good detective. Lots of things have gone missing: a teddy bear, a diamond bracelet, a pair of reading glasses, and more. Hermelin solves the cases, and then leaves typed notes for the owners, who are very grateful … but will they welcome him when they discover he’s a mouse?
Little Jumbo is a superhero … or at least he thinks so. His efforts to save the day may cause more trouble than good, but at least his heart is in the right place. It’s a cute, short book with very fun pictures, but I’m not really sure what the message is for kids: it’s okay to annoy lots of people unwittingly as long as you’re cute? Maybe that’s it.
This story is a comedy of errors. The mayor is proud of his perfect little town–except for that one flower that’s out of place. Not to worry: Fussy Great Ape is on the job! Except that, in fixing the flower, he messed up the rest of the flower bed. Not to worry: Mucky Great Ape can fix the flower bed! But what will he mess up in the process? Things go from bad to worse, and the mayor learns an important lesson about letting go of perfection. And, maybe, about letting apes do anything for you.
Well, hope you enjoyed this literary trip to the zoo with me!
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.