Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell

dear zoo
Happy 30th Birthday, Dear Zoo!

This, like the Frog and Toad series, is a book that was gifted to my sister and was is still coveted by me (who am I kidding, right?).  To be entirely fair to the gifter (I don’t remember who you are, so I can’t defame you on this blog), I may have been beyond the suggested age for reading Dear Zoo …but in my brief experience as a child, one is never too old for lift-the-flap books.  I mean, I still like them (AND pop-up books and books with fuzzy bunnies in them and books with moving parts…), and I am way, way, way beyond the suggested reading age for lift-the-flap .

Anyways.

I saw Dear Zoo (30th anniversary edition, what!?) at the library and immediately snatched it up to take home, read, re-read, and reminisce.  Oh, and to share with the Baby and see if he liked it.  And did he ever.  It was a huge hit.  To give you an idea, I usually get piles of books and then return whatever the baby doesn’t seem interested in – but he just kept on picking up this book so I ended up renewing it for two months.  I should have known – he loves animals and flaps and his previous favourite book was Where’s Spot? (lift-the-flap), which he has loved and crowed over and laughed at for ages, even before he could open the flaps himself.  Hours were spent pulling Dear Zoo from the book-box, lifting/destroying each flap and making animal noises.  I was almost glad when the maximum renewal limit was reached.

The funny part is that the baby seemed to like the back cover just as much as any one of the pages.  It shows a giant box with all of the animals exploding out of it.  He loved to close the book and point at each animal in turn, prompting me to make animal noises and remind him of what they were called.  You know you can get a lot of mileage out of a book when the back cover is such a huge point of interest.

The only problem with the book is that it considers puppies to be the perfect gift-pet, and well, we (respectfully), disagree.  I’ve lived with a dog, my guy grew up with a dog, we’ve both pet-sat a dog, and well…our lifestyle is just not compatible with having a dog.  But try explaining that to a kid (I know my parents tried to explain it to me, and I didn’t believe them until I was into my 30s and dog-sat for a summer).  So we had to modify the last line of the book to read: “They sent me a…puppy!  He was perfect!  So I sent him back“.

I know, I know.  One day, the baby will either learn to read or just plain grow up and realize that dogs are something that can be brought home and kept.  But until that day, why rock the boat?

Rating: A+.  It’s a classic for a reason.

Reading Ages: The Book Trust says that holds interest for 2-5 year-olds but that the reading age is 4+.  I’ve been practicing reading with our next-door-neighbour (who is 5) and I think the Book Trust just about got it right for the reading age.  But if Baby’s interest in flap books in general (and this book in particular) is any indication, I think it “holds interest” starting younger than two.  I would start as young as one, even younger if they have the dexterity (they probably won’t).

Warning:  This book has been touched by the Marketing Gods.  There are a billion versions and goodness knows what other chaff there is out there with Dear Zoo-like fonts and pictures.  Don’t be fooled.  There is only one Dear Zoo.  We (baby and I) saw a DZ-like fuzzy book at the secondhand store the other day and then I had to spend a few minutes explaining to a determined baby (he was trying to scratch the cages open with his nails) that there were no flaps, only fuzzy animals.  He lost interest almost immediately.

Most difficult flap to open without wrecking:  The lion.  He has a cage with bars, that seems to want to bend under the pressure of tiny ungraceful hands.

Favourite animal: The monkey!  He was too naughty, so we sent him back!

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