Get a free SCARS short story. Sign up for News & Goodies from YA Author Cheryl Rainfield
Love my books? Join my Street Team! You'll have my deep gratitude, hear book news first, get swag, and enter to win private contests
Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
by Suzy Lee
I went to the zoo with my mom and dad.
We visited the monkey house,
and Bear Hill.
--The Zoo by Suzy Lee, p. 4-7.
This almost wordless book turns a girl's dull day into one bursting with color and happiness.
The story is not really in the text. The text feels more like a brief list of events that don't even begin to describe what actually happens than a story. In my opinion, the book would have been better without the text, as the text is a bit dull, without life. The real life and the true story in this book is in the illustrations.
The one thing the text did for me was underscore which animal sections the girl was visiting with her parents, making me notice that those particular animals were mysteriously not in their cages—and then all those animals were together with the little girl when she visited them by following the peacock into the color.
The first spread of illustrations look somewhat like awkward scribbled child's drawings cut out and pasted on a background—but keep turning the pages. The illustrations burst alive in the next few pages, where Lee's talent becomes apparent through her keen observations of human interaction, strong caricatures of people that capture mood and expression, visual depth, and sense of anatomy. I would have preferred a more finished look to some of the illustrations, but they have their own charm.
The colored pencil and collage illustrations start off heavily grey and dull blue, with the only spots of color being the pink on the girl's cheeks, and the bright colors of the peacock. This lack of color highlights the moment when the girl follows the peacock—as she does, she transforms from grey into color, and moves into a world bursting with color, as she discovers and plays with the friendly, fancifully colored animals (giraffes with crazy-quilt spots of blue, green, red, pink, and purple, or pink or purple; an orange crocodile and blue monkey; purple and turquoise birds; and rainbow colored trees).
Lee has merged two different stories into the same book—the story of the girl visiting the animals on her own and delightedly playing with them, and the story of the frantic parents who have lost their child and are searching for her. Some readers may find the frantic, bleak parents distressing. It would have helped me to see the parents looking happy when they leave with their child.
The girl remains in color at the end of the day, even after she leaves, as if she is recharged or more alive because of the fun she had. The color makes a clear distinction between the two major stories that occur in the story, as the girl and the animals are always vibrantly colored (once the girl discovers them), while the girl's frantic parents remain dull throughout the day.
The girl's playtime takes off into fantasy as she gleefully slides down the neck of a giraffe and flies with the birds. As she flies, one of her pink boots falls off, and the gorilla catches it. The girl is still missing her boot when she leaves with her parents. The gorilla has it—which suggests that it wasn't all the girl's imagination. The details of real life, combined with fantasy, make the fantasy more believable.
There is so much to see in the illustrations; readers will love discovering all the things that the people and animals are doing—the little and big dramas, the connections from page to page (like the girl getting a peacock balloon before entering the zoo, then leaving it in her father's hand as she follows the real live peacock, the father letting go of his daughter's bird balloon when he realizes she's missing, and that bird balloon floating by the happy girl and her new animal friends, and then in the end appearing back in the girl's hand). Some of the people who appeared in the first few pages also appear in the last.
More is added to the story through illustrations printed right on the front and end papers, as we see the gorilla bursting out of his cage, joining an elephant and monkey, and on the end papers, being pushed back into his cage by the monkey.
Lee's layered and multiple-thread story, flight of fantasy, and distinct illustrative style make this an enjoyable book.
-Added February 2007
Want more books?
Go back to Fantasy & Magic: Let Your Imagination Soar to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
Or, go to Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach to see all of the books.