Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo by Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie, published by Red Fox Picture Books
One of our three year old daughter's favourite toys is a Playmobil zoo, bought for her when she was one. She still enjoys playing with it, pretending to be a zookeeper, especially feeding the animals and keeping them all in good order.
Yet, for a young imagination, zebras, giraffes, lions and monkeys are surely second best in comparison to the wonderful creations of Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie found in the brilliant 'Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo'.
When a young boy receives to his surprise a notice that he has won a prize to run the zoo for the day, he sets off on his bike without trepidation. As he arrives at the strangest zoo he's ever seen, he finds that the bedraggled zookeeper is off on his holiday. He gives the boy only his best wishes, the key to the front door and his zookeeper's hat.
On departing he imparts to the boy one piece of advice: Make sure you feed the Squirgle, and if you hear its tummy rumble it means it hasn't been fed - and its favourite food is children.
The boy soon discovers many wonderfully-named bizarre beasts, including purple Gurps with their fiery burps, the growling Grimblegraw and the furry Furbles. The zoo is a complete mess and the creatures initially run amok - banging doors, stealing the boy's hat and using his broom as a cricket bat.
But through a combination of assertiveness, persuasion, bravery and guile (all good attributes for young readers to engage with) the boy soon has them under control. When the zookeeper returns, even the Squirgle is on its best behaviour, and none of the monsters want the boy to leave.
Sure enough, next day a note arrives, delivered to the boy's front door by the zookeeper and the monsters, asking the boy to please return and run the zoo again.
We love Sara Ogilvie's illustrations in 'Meet the Parents' (reviewed previously). Here her colourful, energetic, cartoon-like style is perfectly matched here to Amy Sparkes' musical rhyme and her description of the wild-yet-sweet cacophonous creations. A bird's eye view of the zoo and a fabulous vertical double-page spread are two of our favourite scenes.