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!
p.s. If I Ran The Zoo by Dr. Seuss is racist, so I removed it from my list.
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. 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]
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 Latham
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 hesitated 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]
This Zoo Is Not For You by Ross Collins
Platypus interviews at the zoo and the zoo animals summarily reject it in an unkind way. Luckily, they realize their mistake and make amends in this rhyming story about inclusion. [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 the same winning duo of Judy Sierra and Marc Brown)
My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall
Color Zoo by Lois Elhert
Supermarket Zoo by Caryl Hart
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