July 11, 2006

DT Bizarre Book Contest: Put Me in the Zoo

put_me_in_the_zoo.jpgBook: Put Me in the Zoo: A Book of Colors
Author and illustrator: Robert Lopshire
Reviewed by: Sandi

I enjoyed this story when I was a kid, so I bought it without blinking when shopping for board books. I didn't remember the plot, only the face of the colorful and friendly animal on the book cover.

In the story, a leopard-like yellow animal with red spots walks to the zoo, wanting to live there. He is promptly expelled without reason. Outside the zoo's walls, the leopard proceeds to explain to two children -- through rhyme -- why he is worthy of being featured in the zoo.

A zoo is not a sentence of confinement where wild animals wither away their unfulfilled lives in boredom. Zoos are exciting entertainment venues for performance animals. This leopard is proud of his amusement value -- he can change his spots to any color on command. The kids are duly impressed and convince him he belongs at the circus, another venue portrayed as animal heaven.

I'll admit to having taken my kids to a zoo, but mostly because there are few public activities for the very young in American society (few enough that they quickly become repetitive).

Put Me in the Zoo underscores how views are changing since this book was first published in 1960. While you may think I'm overreacting, I bet you discover this book is out-of-print by the time you are shopping for your grandchildren.

[ed. note: we have this book, and I always think, "yeah, the circus is the place for you if you want all the exploitation of a zoo, but without all the space and freedom." Not that Cirque de Soleil is any improvement, mind you. Anyway, these days, the real place for spot-changing exhibitionist leopards is on cable.]


You do realize there's a sequel to this book? It was written much later, and is called "New Tricks I Can Do." In this one, he shows off his new tricks to demonstrate why they should keep him in the circus, and in the end the kids tell him that he belongs on TV.

I always found this book bizarre because --- zoo animals don't do tricks! They just sit around looking bored. So who cares what tricks he can do, they should put him in the zoo because he's a bizarre specimen.

There IS the wonderful moment, outside the zoo, when the little boy asks him "Why should you be in the zoo? What good are you?" Ah, ha ha! My wife reads it with such innocent adherance to the poetic meter, but, as a new dad, I find it the perfect opportunity to introduce my daughter to the world's best insult. There's got to be the little pause, a twitch of your eyebrow, and I usually throw in a "hmpf!" -- "What good are you?"

Oh, she's ready for preschool.

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