best zoo themed books for kids, zoo chapter books, zoo picture books

Top 10: Zoo Books for Kids

A trip to the zoo is such a joyous occasion, isn’t it? Our urban zoo in Boston is a little sad, so we typically go to the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, about an hour away. It reminds me, on a smaller scale, of the great San Diego Zoo which is about 2 1/2 hours from where I grew up and is the zoo by which I measure all zoos against.

This zoo children’s book list — zoo picture book and chapter books — is inspired by  the Newbery award winner, The One and Only Ivan. Is there a favorite zoo children’s book you’d like to add to the list? Please help me out and I’ll add it to the list. Thank you!


Top 10: Zoo Books for Kids

10. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead

In a perfect world, zoo animals and zoo keepers would be best friends, just like zoo keeper Amos McGee. When he gets sick and misses a day at work, the animals come by to his house to check on him and help him get better. The artwork by Erin Stead, the author’s wife, is stunning. She uses carefully rendered pencil drawings with what I think is monotype prints. The results are visually arresting. [Caldecott picture book, ages 2 and up]

9. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

I love the subtle details in this bedtime favorite of ours. Did you see the photos on the wall of the zookeeper’s house? It’s the animals as babies! We also like to track the red balloon and the mouse with the banana for the gorilla. And I have to mention the toys each zoo animal has in their cage … be sure to find those as well! [picture book, ages 1 and up]

8. If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

Do you have a kid who thinks he or she can do everything better than it is currently being done? PickyKidPix is like that. She would certainly have a better zoo than the San Diego Zoo if she were in charge but I’m not sure she’d have the range of animals nor go the great lengths that Gerald McGrew would go to if he were in charge. We love this Dr. Seuss classic!  [picture book, ages 2 and up]

7. Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham

I grew up with this vintage picture book but it seems to be virtually unknown these days. Margaret Bloy Graham is probably better known for her beloved Harry the Dirty Dog series. Billy’s pet spider Martha is left at the zoo and suddenly all the animals are happy because she’s taken care of their insect problem. But when she is forced into hiding for a thorough zoo cleaning, everyone realizes how important spiders are to the zoo ecosystem. I love this message because my kids are afraid of spiders and this picture book helps us to appreciate them. [picture book, ages 2 and up]

6. Don’t Feed the Boy by Irene Lathman

In some ways, 11-year-old Whit is like an animal at the zoo where his parents work. He is homeschooled here at the zoo and doesn’t leave the premises much. When he meets “Bird Girl” who comes each day to draw the birds, he finally has the chance to talk to someone his age. His friendship with Stella (aka Bird Girl) deepens and he learns of her troubled home and wants to help but is she asking too much of him? [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

5. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Finding the right pet is challenging but luckily the nice folks at the zoo are very helpful! We love this lift the flap book and can’t believe that it’s celebrating its 30th year! [interactive picture book, ages 1 and up]

4. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle pair up again with this endangered animal version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I think it’s never too early for kids to learn about our fragile planet; it will be they, after all, who will have to save it! [picture book, ages 1 and up]

3. Put Me In The Zoo by Robert Lopshire

My son loved, loved, loved this series. I didn’t realize that it was a three book set, but I finally found the last one in a used book sale at our elementary school. A talented animal can do wondrous things with colors and circles and it thinks the zoo is the perfect place to live but the two children it befriends convince it that there is an even better place to aspire towards. [picture book, ages 2 and up]

2. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Two of my kids’ teachers told me that this was an amazing book last year so I bought it but hestitated because I was afraid it would be one of those sad, urban zoo stories. I was so wrong to wait to read this Newbery winning chapter book!

The voices of each animal, as written by Katherine Applegate, manage to convey not just their story of how they came to this urban sad zoo, but their personalities as if we could see into their souls. And Ivan, the Silverback Gorilla, is a mensch of a gorilla, called upon by his friend Stella the elephant to take care of the new baby elephant Ruby and find a way to get her into a safer environment. Luckily Ivan is both smart and artistic and has human friends with artistic sensibilities.

You will cheer as you weep with emotion as you turn the final pages of the book! It does not disappoint! [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson

This picture book often makes the Banned and Challenged book list each year.  It’s based on a true zoo story:

The book is based on the story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. Roy and Silo were observed performing behaviors typically seen in penguin couples, such as bowing to one another. Roy and Silo made a nest together, and seemed to be trying to hatch a rock that resembled an egg. When zookeepers realized that these two males had formed a couple, they gave them an egg to hatch. This egg was obtained from a male-female penguin couple, named Betty and Porkey, who had two eggs and could not care for both at once. Roy and Silo took turns sitting on the egg, and eventually it hatched. The female chick was named “Tango” by the zookeepers. [picture book, ages 2 and up]

Honorable Mentions

Midnight at the Zoo by Faye Hanson

The lions, meerkats, monkeys are lethargic when Max and Mia visit the zoo with their class. When they get left behind at the zoo, they discover that something magical happens at midnight. This is Madagascar meets The Night at the Museum. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

More Honorable Mentions from Reader Suggestions

Ann of Doodles and Jots has some great recommendations: Zoo-ology, ZooZical, My Heart is Like a Zoo, and Color Zoo.

Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet

ZooZical by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown

(also Wild About Books also by same winning duo of Judy Sierra and Marc Brown)

My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

 Color Zoo by Lois Elhert

Catherine of Story Snug has a wonderful suggestion. Her review is here.

Supermarket Zoo by Caryl Hart



To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

best zoo themed books for kids, zoo chapter books, zoo picture books

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Great list – we love Dear Zoo and Amos McGee. Our favourite zoo book is Supermarket Zoo by Caryl Hart ๐Ÿ™‚
    Catherine recently posted…Mog’s ChristmasMy Profile

  2. What a fun idea for a list, Mia! I read Dear Zoo at library story time and it’s always a hit.

  3. Oh, I love this list. The Put Me in the Zoo were a favorite of mine when I was little. We don’t have them in our library, but I might need to add them. My daughter has read and re-read The One and only Ivan several times. I especially like how this list has a little of something for all age groups, which is great considering my kids are 1 1/2 and 6.

    Jenny recently posted…My Gratitude for Ramona and Beverly ClearyMy Profile

    • Hi Jenny,
      I have three kids, each about 2 and a half years apart which is why, I think, I always have a range of ages. My son especially loved Put Me in the Zoo and I had loved it as a child. The rest of the series is only for the serious fan. My son liked them but I think the first one is the best. My other kids did not care for the sequels.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…50% Off Classic Board Games!My Profile

  4. Goodnight, Gorilla was a huge favorite at our house. I’ll never forget the crying jag (my daughter’s, not mine) when it got lost under the sofa for a couple of nights. Best picture book ever!

    • Hi The Common Mom,
      Oh no! Losing Goodnight, Gorilla sounds traumatic!! I think I would cry too. I’m so glad you found it! Do you and your daughter ever look for that red balloon on every page spread? We loved doing that! Also the paintings in the zoo keeper’s house, the zoo animals’ stuffed toys, and of course, the mouse dragging the banana for the gorilla. Love this book too!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…50% Off Classic Board Games!My Profile

  5. We read most of picture books on your list, and now I am very interested in Don’t Feed the Boy and Ivan book.
    Natalie recently posted…Christmas Around the World: RussiaMy Profile

  6. What a fun theme for a book list! We have read and enjoyed several of these zoo books ๐Ÿ™‚
    maryanne recently posted…World Culture for Kids: Prague (Czech Republic)My Profile

  7. Ann

    Great theme! Tango and Ivan sound so touching. I think we’ll start with Tango. We also like Zoo-ology, ZooZical, My Heart is Like a Zoo, and Color Zoo. I feel like there’s more though!
    Ann recently posted…Bamboo iPhone Case ReviewMy Profile

  8. Love it! A Sick Day for Amos McGee is one of my all time favorites. Need to check out Be Nice to Spiders — thanks for linking up!
    Anna recently posted…7 Letter Y Crafts and Process Art for PreschoolersMy Profile

  9. I hope you can include my book; Help to Save the Zoo Trip by Tessa Tanda.
    It is an interactive, humorous, and educational picture book for kids aged 3 to 8, full of interesting facts and fun activities related to Zoo Animals. Enjoy!

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