Going to the Zoo, zoo zoo!

posted in: Alison Jay | 21

Last week we were on holiday! We had a fantastic time, saw many wonderful things, caught up with some great friends and all in all just got a buzz from life πŸ™‚

We spent one entire day at the zoo being thrilled, amazed and occasionally disgusted by the various creatures we saw. M went crazy over the Komodo Dragon, whilst J fell in love with the fish and bugs.

Now we’re back at home we wanted to relived the exploring and excitement of that day at the zoo, and fortunately (thanks to a comment left here by Kelly from We Are Here) , I had the perfect book at hand – Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay.

Welcome to the Zoo tells a myriad of stories about events which take place one day at a zoo. There’s the boy who loses his balloon, the ostrich who escapes from his keeper, the monkey who steals a picnic, the poodle who causes havoc in his determination to chase after a woman’s hat blown off by the wind, and more…

These stories are told entirely without words but simply through observing all the tiny, funny and beautiful detail in Jay’s rich illustrations. The book opens with a map of the zoo, and ends with some suggestions of animals or details to look for, but otherwise the stories are waiting there for you to construct yourself.

This is what I both enjoy and (if I’m honest) sometimes feel less enthusiastic about with wordless picture books – if I’m tired I’m happier with a text to follow, but if I (or the girls) have more energy, wordless picture books can be exhilarating in a way that books with a (more or less) “set text” sometimes can’t. The inferences M makes to tie a (wordless) story together are often surprising, giving me wonderful insights into her view of the world.

In my experience wordless storytelling stimulates imaginative leaps in ways that books with text don’t always manage to achieve. Tanya, from books4yourkids.com has written a really wonderful guest post all about “How to Read a Book without Words (Out Loud)” over at The Well-Read Child – I encourage you to read what she has to say!

Detail from Alison Jay's Welcome to the Zoo

Alison Jay has a very distinctive illustrative style (you might recognise it from Crabtree and Evelyn packaging), whereby she uses crackling varnish to give her illustrations an aged feeling. Inspired by this we decided to draw portraits of our favourite zoo animals using a technique to mimic the crackling so typical in Jay’s work.

1. We draw pictures of our favourite animals on paper with wax crayons. We pressed down as hard as we could and tried to cover the paper entirely.

2. Once the paper was covered with crayon we crumpled up our drawings as tightly as we could.

3. We uncrumpled our paper and laid it as flat as possible before painting over it with a very thin paint wash (just regular tempera paint watered down quite a bit). The paint only goes into all the little cracks in the crayon that were made when the paper was crumpled and thus gives a similar effect to the crackle painting done by Alison Jay.

4. Some versions of this activity suggest painting over the dry picture with glue, to help preserve your art and give it a shiny gloss. We did do this, but I’m not sure that anything was really gained by it. Once the glue was dry we created our own zoo gallery to remind us of a really wonderful day out!

For more examples of crayon crackle painting, take a look at these very effective images at Art at Stark

Welcome to the Zoo: ** (2 stars)

Fun zoo-bound music to listen to includes:

  • Going to the Zoo – lots of versions out there but we love this one by The Nields
  • The Monkeys Are Breaking Out Of The Zoo by Belle & Sebastian
  • At The Zoo by Simon And Garfunkel
  • The surreal Zoo in My House by Franciscus Henri
  • Walkin’ Through the Zoo by The Doo-Dads
  • Komodo Dragon Rap Song by Jim Post (not really a rap song, and with some terrible rhymes, but it works for the komodo dragon fanatic we have here!)

  • Some more zoo-inspired fun we’d like to get up to includes:

  • Creating Zoo Maps, from Let’s Explore
  • Constructing our own zoo, like this one from Tangarang, or this one from Likely Classroom, or even this one from preschool daze
  • If you can’t get to a zoo, enjoy some live footage from one of the top 20 wildlife webcams, as selected by The Times

  • What are your favourite books about going to the zoo? What other wordless picture books would you recommend?

    21 Responses

    1. ChoxBox

      The London Zoo?! We lived two minutes from it and went there at least once every week. I remember when the Komodo dragons were first brought – my older child was about 5 then and was very excited πŸ™‚ and we’d read up all we could about them.

      Nice list of songs – will check out the ones I hadn’t heard (of) before – thanks! As usual, awesome activities πŸ™‚

      And have you seen the Anthony Browne book called Gorilla? I find all his books interestingly different from the usual and this one is so too.

    2. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Choxbox! How lucky for you to be regular visitors at the zoo… We were there the whole day and still didn’t see everything we wanted to. Yes, I know the Anthony Brown book. I love what he’s using his laureateship to say (about the importance for everyone of picture books) but I’ve never fallen in love with his work. I certainly appreciate it, but he’s not an author/illustrator I find myself telling others they have to track down. What do you think of him?

    3. ChoxBox

      Hmm. His work does border on the weird at times but I somehow like it perhaps because it is different from most children’s books. ‘My Dad’ is a hit with my kids. Am not sure if the little one will appreciate ‘Zoo’, the older will certainly find it interesting, whether she’ll fall in love with it I’m not sure!

      And yes, many many afternoons were spent in the zoo as we had annual passes – often blogged about it in my old blog. You are right, one simply cannot cover it in one trip. Did you see the new clock outside the Blackburn Pavillion?!

    4. Katie Fries

      I feel the same way about wordless picture books. In fact, yesterday we were all reading outside and my kids came to me with a wordless book and wanted me to “read” it to them and I found myself mildly annoyed because all I really wanted to do was read my book, not use my brain to come up with a new story. ; ) That said, the book was Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon. Lovely story. We also recently had In the Town all Year ‘Round (Rotraut Susanne Berner) out from our library. It has a Richard Scarry quality to the illustrations and my kids enjoyed searching for the characters on each page and making up stories about what they were doing.

      Would love to visit the London Zoo someday!

    5. Catherine

      That looks like a great book. I feel the same about wordless picture books sometimes, but my son pays much more attention to the story when I read them because he has to get really involved and look at the pictures.

    6. Choxbox

      Talking about wordless books, there is a whole bunch of them brought out the National Book Trust, a Govt initiative. We have around fifteen of them, each is fab. They are also very inexpensive – cost about 10p each, as they are subsidised. If I come to London, would you like me to get some?

      Sometimes there is a sub-plot running along in just the pictures while the main story is being told in words. Like ‘Handa’s Surprise’ by Eileen Browne and ‘Rosie’s Walk’ by Pat Rosen.

      I find that my kids enjoy wordless as well as part word/part wordless types tremendously, as do I. Okay this is my third comment, will go off now πŸ™‚

    7. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Katie,

      Thanks for the suggestions. I don’t know either Chicken and Cat or In the Town All Year ‘Round – though I really like the look of the illustrations from the frontcover. One thing that I do like about wordless books is that I find they often work for reading to both my kids at the same time despite their age difference. J is currently really enjoying Flotsam by David Wiesner because of all the fish illustrations, although the “main” story is complicated enough to be interesting for M.

    8. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Choxbox,

      An offer I can’t refuse! Let’s hope you’re coming to the UK soon πŸ™‚

      Yes, the difference between text and picture can be a lot of fun – and I just learned a new word to do with this – decalage “a French word used to express the disparity of meaning between word and image” – I’ve recently read Illustrating Children’s Boks by Martin Salisbury which is a wonderfully inspirational read full of delicious looking books.

    9. Kristine

      Good timing – we went to the zoo today! We have membership for our zoo and it’s great as we can just go for a few hours and see a few animals which is great when the kids are still napping. Today we timed it to see the Little Penguins being fed. When we got home we found a variety of toys to match the ones we saw today and turned the lounge in to a zoo. Then when(poor) Dad got home he could visit the zoo and see what he missed today.

      I love picture books that tell a side story in the pictures that isn’t related to the main story. I could be mistaken but I’m don’t think we own a single picture only book not even Rosie’s Walk.

    10. Tiffany

      Thanks for linking me — how fun! You have such fun ideas!

      I love the thematic way you present a subject. What a fun mom!

      There is a game on my blog about guessing animals. We play it in the car every day. EVERY day. my 2 and 4 year old. it might be fun too!

    11. Zoe

      Hi Tiffany,
      Can you leave the link to your blog post about guessing animals? I can’t find it on your blog and I’d love to read about it πŸ™‚

    12. Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes

      You are a jump ahead of me. My blog theme for week of June 7 focuses on Zoo and Aquarium Month so come to visit throughout the week.

      For pure silliness I like If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss. I’m surprised no one mentioned Good Night Gorilla! by Peggy Rathmann. It has only 44 words!!! I guess you could count it as almost wordless. One of my favorite wordless picture books is You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and illustrated by her sister, Robin Preiss Glasser.

      BTW: Thanks for visiting for Neighbor Day craft. I like your idea of a map playmat that you showed on your blog in February.

    13. Ian @ Tidy Books

      Excellent blog post (again) you do have some tremendous outings. We’ve been lucky enough to spend the day at London Zoo in the past, Twycross is our favourite though. Excellent way of recording your day, and thanks for the links.

    14. Jen

      My daughter had a f. trip to the zoo today. I love our zoo. Love that the animals can roam and have a lot of space to live.

      I can’t stop humming Raffi’s song- I’m going to the zoo, zoo, zoo- How about you, you you… as I read your post. πŸ™‚

      Creative and Curious Kids!

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