My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Hall, Michael. My Heart Is Like a ZooNew York: Greenwillow Books, 2010. Cover of My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Plot:  A heart can hold so many feelings, so many animals.

Setting: a child’s bedroom

Point of View: 3rd person

Theme: hearts, emotions, feelings, animals, imagination, bedtime, shapes, counting

Literary Quality: “My heart is like a zoo– eager as a beaver, steady as a yak, hopeful as a hungry heron fishing for a snack.” Thus begins a fun and silly exploration of the heart and all its feelings, and the animals it resembles in each state. A mix of the expected and unexpected (my heart is…”crafty as a fox, quiet as a caterpillar wearing knitted socks”), the text will delight readers and listeners. If Hall’s writing were not enough to draw children in, the bright, bold and colors of his illustrations would do so in a jiffy. Each animal is composed of a collage of hearts, perfectly complementing and paralleling the text (and offering inspiration for a post-reading craft!). When the story ends, “tired as a zookeeper who’s had a busy day,” the illustration reveals that the animals are actually in a child’s bedroom, a child who sleeps. A lovely reflection on emotions and art, this book will help children express themselves in myriad ways. Plus, children will enjoy counting all of the hearts they can find!

Audience: I would recommend this book to readers ages 0-5. A wonderful way to help young readers think about their feelings. 

Personal reaction: I gave My Heart Is Like a Zoo to my son as a little Valentine’s Day gift this year. I love the use of the heart as the central theme of the story and as the mode of composition for the illustrations! This is the kind of book my boy would have loved from day one, when he only liked books with big blocks of color. I immediately picked up a copy to send along to a friend’s new baby, as well.

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Snowballs by Lois Ehlert

Cover Image of Snowballs by Louis EhlertEhlert, Lois. SnowballsOrlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

Plot:  It’s a snowball day, the perfect kind of day to make a snow family! But it only lasts until the sun comes out…

Setting: A snowy winter day

Point of View: 1st person

Theme: snow, snowballs, snowmen, nature, creativity, play, winter, family, birds, seeds, materials, textures,

Literary Quality: In Snowballs, a child describes waiting for the perfect snow day and the process of creating a snow family, including the family pets. From the opening page, which asks, “Do you think birds know when it’s going to snow?” Ehlert’s large-print text is conversational, and her collages are big and colorful. The collages also change orientation, using full two-page spreads vertically to depict a single snowman. When the sun comes out, the background changes from grey to bright orange. The the story and illustrations combine to make a great read-aloud where children are viewing the book from a distance and ready to respond to the narrator’s questions and observations. Kids will especially enjoy Ehlert’s edgy, funny snowmen. In addition to snowman supplies such as hats, scarves, sticks, and pinecones, the narrator has saved objects like seeds, nuts, fruit, popcorn and dried corn kernels, washers, compares, toy car wheels, plastic fish, and a necktie. Readers will have fun recognizing the every-day materials, and find great inspiration for either their own collages or snowmen! The picture book includes a visual index of the “good stuff” to save for snowmen as well as information about snow and photographs of snowmen. In these final pages we see supplies, mittens, and gloves from all over the world. The board book edition does not have these fabulous appendices.

Audience: 0-8. A great read for a snowy day, or a day stuck at home, as it provides activity ideas for both indoor and outdoor play! 

Personal reaction: Snowballs is a favorite winter story in our house. Even as a baby my son loved the book, I think because he found the stark contrast in the collages stimulating. The big white circles with bright splashes of color are appealing to little eyes! The story has good rhythm, too. Now, at a year and a half, my little guy still loves the book and we play outside in the snow whenever we can. Of course, he has more interest in sliding down a big snowball than continuing to build it into a snowman, but hey, a snowball is a snowball! We’ll get to the snowman stage eventually. 

Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown

Craig, Lindsey. Dancing Feet! Illustrated by Marc Brown. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
dancing_feet

Plot:  Guess who is dancing on lots of different feet? A whole menagerie of animals! And children, too!

Setting: Imaginary

Point of View: 1st person (determined by “We are dancing on stampity feet!” at the end)

Theme: dance, movement, animals, music, sound, rhythm, feet, imagination

Literary Quality: Energy bounds from the pages of this rhythmic story. Craig playfully explores sounds, movements, and colors in her text:

Creepity! Creepity!

Lots of purple feet!

Who is dancing

that creepity beat?

Caterpillar’s dancing on creepity feet.

Creepity! creepity!

Happy feet!

Every animal’s feet are a different color and have a different dance, but they’re all happy! The sounds each animal’s feet make are emphasized with italics on the page. Of course, these sounds evoke motions — tippity, stompityslappity, creepity, etc. — and offer a great opportunity for children to practice the movements, an opportunity cemented by the final dancers, children who imitate the animals. The patterns of related sounds and repetition of the question and answer format make for a perfect read-aloud. Marc Brown’s colorful collages keep the momentum going. His illustrations of the feet provide visual clues to which animals will be seen in full dancing on the following spreads. This is a story that will get everybody up and moving their happy feet!

Audience: Ages 1-7.

Personal reaction: We’re big fans of Dancing Feet in our household, and have been since my son was just a few months old. The bold collages and musical text have always captivated his attention. The animals and their dances are silly and fun. I love how seamlessly this story brings music, movement, colors, and animals together.