There’s A Zoo in Room 22 by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg
Sierra, Judy. 2000. There’s A Zoo in Room 22. Illustrated by Barney
Saltzberg. New York: Gulliver Books Harcourt, Inc. ISBN:0-15-202033-0
There’s A Zoo in Room 22 is a book of poetry that goes from A
to Z with types of animals that the teacher Ms. Darling is allowing her students to keep as class pets. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own animal and each animal gets its own poem. Room 22 certainly has a large variety of very strange pets for their classroom. This book is also somewhat educational in the effect that it introduces new animals that most readers probably
are not familiar with and also teaches alternate names for animals that most kids do know.
For example, another name for skunk is a zorilla, Ms. Darling learns this fact along with most readers (or listeners)
in a rather comedic last page of this book. I even had to look that one up to
make sure since I was not familiar with this name either.
Sierra’s poetic style is a lot of fun and is very engaging. She mixes interesting facts with pure silliness which is a sure winner when presenting poetry to children. The illustrations in this book really do add an incredible amount of interest. Saltzberg does a great job of capturing the text in pictures. One thing that he does that will no doubt keep children interested is that there are always more than just
the animal being featured portrayed somewhere in the illustration. Sometimes
the other classroom pets are more obvious than others, but adding the dimension of searching the pictures makes this book
even more attractive to children. Saltzberg’s style for these illustrations
is very cartoonish. He used mixed mediums of pencil, watercolor and prisma colors
for his art in this book. This style and chosen mediums really complement the
poetry very well and were a very good choice.
While there are many subtle additions to the illustrations such as the words
on the chalkboard and titles of books lying around, there are flaws as well. The
Kirkus review noted, “…the illustrations do not convey personalities. Facial
features vary only slightly and expressions of emotion do not vary at all. In each illustration all characters display the
same bland smiles, frowns, or looks of mild surprise.” While admittedly
this is true, the overall effect of the pictures is good and does achieve the desired purpose.
I personally enjoyed this book a good deal
and even laughed out loud on several of the poems. This would be a great accessory
to a unit on animals, poetry or even for a zoo fieldtrip.
Rise the Moon by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Raul Colon
Spinelli, Eileen. 2003. Rise the Moon. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New
York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-8037-2601-5
Rise the Moon is a soothing book with very rhythmic verses that tell
about all that goes on by the light of the moon. The dreamy imagery and the soft
rhythm of the text make this a very natural lullaby.
The only real setting for this book is nighttime. All over the world the people and animals that are drawn by the moon’s magnetism are portrayed in
very positive and serene verses. There is a sense of diversity although that
is not reinforced through the illustrations. Spinelli’s style is very whimsical
and light which creates the atmosphere of a dreamy moonlit world. The beautiful
verses are mesmerizing and not at all cumbersome. What really makes this book
great though is the illustrations. Readers will be immediately captivated by
the pictures that you do not even want to tear your eyes away from the art to read the four or five lines on the opposite
page. This may be the reason for placing the text in the center of an all white
page, to keep it from being swallowed by the pictures.
Raul Colon’s technique of using watercolors then distressing the picture
and following up with colored pencils is very unique and beautifully done. This
style creates a texture to the pictures that is intriguing. It is this texture
and richness that draws the eye to these wonderful illustrations. Colon’s
style is somewhat reminiscent of impressionism but may have other influences as well.
These illustrations certainly complement the text as they are as soothing as the words being read.
Gillian Engberg called this book “A beautiful, reassuring celebration
of night” in Booklist’s January 2003 issue. That is certainly an
apt description of this sweet lullaby. I will certainly remember this book to
read to my children and nieces at bedtime since that is the most natural time for this particular story.
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock retold by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Janet Stevens
Kimmel, Eric A. 1988. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. Illustrated
by Janet Stevens. New York: Holiday House. ISBN: 0-8234-0689-X
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock originated as a folk tale from West
Africa. It is the story of a very lazy and sneaky spider named Anansi
who tricks all of the animals in the jungle and steals all of their hard-earned food.
Little Bush Dear after watching Anansi trick all of the other animals decides that he will teach him a lesson. So Little Bush Dear beats Anansi at his own game and he and all of the other jungle
animals go to reclaim their property. Unfortunatly, Anansi does not learn his
lesson and he continues to play tricks to this very day.
The theme of this story is that hard work pays of and cheaters get what they
deserve in the end. Anansi was very lazy and would never put forth the effort
to collect food for himself so he would steal the other animals food that they worked hard for. In the end Anansi ended up with nothing, which is exactly what he started with, a sort of justice is shown
through this. Another sub theme which is important to mention is that sometime
people do not learn their lesson. They continue to do mean things even if they
get in trouble. This is an important lesson in reality for kids. Too often children’s books paint an unrealistic picture of the world by suggesting that the bad guy
always sees the error of his ways and becomes a good guy in the end. This is
obviously not always true in real life.
The style of writing employed by Kimmel is very fluid. The story flows along very naturally and there is an element of predictability and repetition that tend
to engage young readers and listeners. Although, Kimmel does use controlled vocabulary,
the story is not forced or unnatural. The reader does not get a sense of being
talked down to.
The illustrations by Janet Stevens are a bit cartoonish, however, they are
very detailed. She appears to have used the mixed mediums of watercolor and colored
markers. The rich colors and detailed characters enhance the text of the story
very well. Since this story originated from the oral tradition, it must have
been difficult to create illustrations that would add very much to the story at all.
Stevens accomplished this goal wonderfully with the lovely art she created for this book. Maria B. Salvadore’s review in School Library Journal agrees stating that, “Stevens’
complementary, colorful illustrations add detail, humor and movement to the text.”
This is a very enjoyable trickster tale that is sure to be enjoyed by children
and lends itself well to those children just learning to read as well as for reading out loud to classes or small groups. This book provides a realistic view of the world without being too harsh, a delicate
balance that has been achieved beautifully.