There are lots of great animal books out there, and a huge selection of zoo books in particular, but this one really stands out to me. It’s by Adam Rex, author of some hilarious and memorable poetry compilations concerning monster, specifically Frankenstein. In fact, the author note of one of these, Frankenstein Takes the Cake, whimsically describes the author and his approach to his subjects:
I know Frankenstein’s
the doctor, not the monster
In Pssst!, Mr. Rex is characteristically avoidant of overdone themes like who lives with who and what sounds they make. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that being the point of a book. Books are where we get these ideas in the first place, many times. But a little absurdity goes a long way toward giving children a story and a book that is engaging and respectful of not just their ability to identify the familiar but to use their imagination, too. For instance when the turkeys ask for corn, our girl hero points out that she is not supposed to feed the animals. “We want to turn it into clean burning fuel,” the turkeys reply. Duh, why didn’t I think of that?
Mr. Rex’s mixed media artwork is compelling. The heavy, oily strokes give a sense of relief that is reminiscent of clay sculpture. The realism is a fun contrast to the the pencil outline setting where it is placed, settings that are broadly imaginative but clearly planned and cohesive. You get a sense of the zoo as a whole wonderful, wacky park rather than a series of cages that exist in blank space. As if all this wasn’t a unique enough experience, the story has a regularity that keeps kids attached and builds the tension for the totally unexpected ending. You should absolutely read this picture book! Mr. Rex has also written some fiction including The True Meaning of Smekday.