CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005
Written from a third-person perspective, the plot in this book is considerably shaky. The lack of conflict results in a lack of action, leaving the short storyline feeling flat and confused. When Max resists eating the insects he has ordered, his mother tells him, “You ordered it. You eat it.” Without any complaints, he eats them and likes them. Presumably Australian author Louise Schofield has attached the intended moral of “Try it, you might like it, but don’t order it if you won’t,” to her first picture book, but having Max learn this only as a direct result of his mother’s orders is disappointing.
Max’s character is not especially strong as he is always accompanied by his parents and does exactly what they say (as nice as that would be!). There is no opportunity for him to encounter a problem and solve it himself. The insect-eating is set up (though this is possibly contradictory to what Schofield intended) as the highlight of the night, with illustrations of an insect-munching Max adorning both the cover and the final page.
The side plots Schofield includes muddle what storyline is given; Aunt Zelda never comes forward to talk to the children but remains tucked away in the corners of most pages like a female version of Where’s Waldo? for no understandable reason. Another interruption in the text occurs when the family discovers - three pages from the end of the story - that a tiger is missing from the zoo; the children anticlimactically shrug it off because, they reason, they can still go visit the other animals in the zoo whenever they want. Although Schofield has many good ideas for her story, combining them causes a loss of luster in the writing.
Malcolm Geste’s illustrations in The Zoo Room breathe life into the weaker points of the story. The characters appear to be almost 3-D, and in places literally step out of the borders of the page closer to the text and the reader. Cartoonish and filled with movement, they offer the child reader a chance to engage with the kooky activities in the Zoo Room, and, as well, to find Aunt Zelda, who is hiding in nearly every page. Children will enjoy the images of the food (and likely squirm in disgust - and delight - at Max’s choice of dinner). The illustrations occasionally stray from the words on the page, possibly from a lack of visual cues in the wording. They are sometimes too graphic, with multiple illustrations of a zebra being shredded into bloody bits by the tigers, gnashing teeth, and, on one page, a bird defecating onto the father’s head. On the whole, however, the images work well to complement the text, but, at times, disrupt or supersede it.
Recommended with reservations.
Sandi Harrison is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.