The Zoo Box is exactly what the title suggests: a box filled with zoo animals, eager to be released, ready to wreak havoc on the lives of two unsuspecting kids. The set up is Jumanji-esque—mom and dad go out for the evening and the kids are left to their own devices. Upon opening the titular box, all manner of exotic animals spring out and run out of the house. The children follow them to the zoo, where it turns out that the animals are the zoo patrons and the people are the exhibits! What a crazy upside-down world! Eventually, the kids get the animals back in the box, and get home and into bed just in time. The parents don’t suspect a thing, and promise a trip to the zoo in the morning for their good behavior. What a relief! Or is it?
As a cranky adult, I would say that this story has been told before, and more skillfully, but I think a couple of things make this book a really fun ride. First of all, there’s the imagination aspect of it—kids at home alone letting their imaginations run wild (literally!) without their parents to straighten them out as to what’s real and what’s pretend—that’s always a winner when it comes to a kid’s story. Secondly, the illustrations are bouncy, bright, and truly friendly. The kids are cute and simply drawn, easy stand-ins for any imaginative reader, and the animals are equally adorable. It occupies a space somewhere between picture book and comic book—a fairly new format for First Second, but a potentially successful one. Most pages are in a four-panel layout, and the text is simple enough for new readers or for reading aloud as a family. Adults might particularly enjoy the slight strangeness of the “animals acting like people” premise; it seems like there’s a bit of a nod to the noir-ish Norwegian cartoonist Jason in this book’s style, with largely silent animals occupying a strangely adult world.
Though the story (people looking at animals, animals looking at people) is not a new one, the comic book elements of the storytelling freshen it up and keep it light and fun. A great read for the younger set, a chance to stretch the imagination a little and to see some cute animals, and perhaps even a gentle gateway to comic books.
The Zoo Box
by Ariel Cohn
Art by Aron Nels Steinke
First Second, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 5-7