Author: Thyra Heder
Age Range: 4-8
Fraidyzoo, by Thyra Heder, is a combination alphabet book and over-the-top story about the types of animals that one might find at the zoo. A family decides to go to the zoo one day. However, the younger daughter is afraid of the zoo. She just can't remember exactly what it is about the zoo that she fears. So her parents and sister embark on a day-long quest to help her remember what she might be afraid. They act out (with quite elaborate props/costumes) animals for each letter of the alphabet. By the end of the day, the little gir is ready to give the zoo a try (though they have to push the visit to the next day). When they get to the zoo, they discover that there is still something to fear (though it's not any of the animals).
I find Fraidyzoo just a tad gimmicky. Having to go through the costuming of all of the animal types gets old for me. But my four year old loves it, and has asked for it several times. She declares that it is her "favorite book." She is very impressed with the creativity of the family in their dressing up. I think she especially enjoys the fact that the author doesn't always tell you directly what animal is being acted out on each page. You have to guess from the visual cues, text hints, and your knowledge of what the next letter of the alphabet is. The animals are all identified on the back end papers. For example, as we reach N we have:
"Is it one of those whales with a horn?"
This is accompanied by a picture of the older sister in a wading pool with her hair stuck up on her head like a horn.
Heder's watercolor and ink illustrations are humorous and creative, and reward close inspection. The family uses all sorts of props from around their house (kitchen tongs as antlers, for example), and the results range from the simple to the complex. Owls in towels" just shows the two sisters wrapped in white towels, their shapes owl-like. But on the next page there's an enormous rhinoceros made out of cardboard and duct tape, requiring three family members and some accessories to move it around.
Only late in the book does the little sister start to actively participate in the charades. In fact, the careful reader will notice the little sister becoming happier and happier as the book progresses, a validating thing for young readers. Also validating, I think, is the lengths to which her family will go to make her feel safe. We should all have families who will trash their house and spend an entire day acting out zoo animals.
So, if you are looking for an alphabet/zoo book for slightly older readers (vs. the early preschool crowd), kids who enjoy solving not-so-obvious puzzles, Fraidyzoo may be just the ticket. The end is a fun surprise, too. Heder's busy illustrations are unique and memorable, and my own four year old finds them laugh-out-loud funny. Definitely recommended for library purchase. I think that Fraidyzoo might work well for a group read-aloud for kindergarteners, too.
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (@AbramsBooks)
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Source of Book: Library copy
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