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Book Review: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Title: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Author: Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Copyright date: April, 2020

Age range: preschool-elementary

Lexile reading level: AD900L

What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo? Shares unique ways zoo staff contribute to the care of the animals, and why these actions are important. For example, you might tickle a tapir with a rake to emulate the sensation of rubbing against a tree (to remove parasites), create puzzles for meerkats to find their food (to encourage natural behavior) or brush a hippo’s teeth (to help avoid cavities, of course!). 

Bonus alert! Teach alliteration with many of the pages, like “Tickle a tapir!”

Each page begins with a verb (rub, shine, kick, pick, etc), an animal, and a short description of the activity. With a white background and the layered, textured illustrations, the animals pop off the page and often appear to be in motion. 

As the pages begin to become predictable, Jenkins and Page shake things up with a three-page spread showcasing how the employees work together to weigh a python! 

Young children often love the cadence and rhythm Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a _____ a _____ books. I found myself generating that same pattern, only instead of silly endeavors, I was shining a tortoise’s shell (to keep it from drying and cracking, of course!) and rubbing an aardvark’s ears (with sunscreen to keep from those pesky sunburns!). 

Backmatter matters! In this case, we’ve got a timeline, a map, and lists. The next page gives additional information on the featured animals.

I particularly liked the way Jenkins and Page avoid using the word “zookeeper.” The actions described may be performed by a wide range of zoo employees, from picking up panda poop to measuring a guitar shark, and will allow children visiting a zoo to notice all of the employees, not just the highly trained that may be less visible to the public.  

Are your Eric Carle fans growing up? Do you have kids who love to make collages? Love to add to their knowledge of animals? Jenkins’ books are perfect for your kids!

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, a husband and wife team, won a Caldecott Award for their work What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? so their latest collaboration caught our attention.

Jenkins has written over 30 books for children, most of them with an animal theme. His books are usually focused on a very specific aspect, such as the attributes of animal eyes, comparisons between animal eggs, or the ways tails help animals. These unique angles make these books great for classroom read-alouds or for multiple family members because there is something for everyone! I find myself waiting for some of my favorite animals to make a guest appearance in each book! 

While this book was published in 2020 and has not (yet?) won any major awards, it has received great reviews. Booklist says, “…Clever, engaging, and always informative, this will be welcomed by animal-lovers and fans of this duo.” School Library Journal writes, “Textured collage illustrations bring the animals to life and create a sense of authenticity…. Young readers will learn about an underrepresented profession in this title, which also encourages a love of animals.”

Spend time on this author’s website, where the icons are recognizable images from his books! We love this video where Jenkins shares his process for illustrating his book, Move.

If possible, spend time at a zoo after reading this book. We guarantee that your child’s experience will be enhanced as they look for the ways a zoo employee has made an impact. Can’t make it to a zoo? Most local zoos have great websites where you can observe feedings or other happenings. 

Looking for a way to practice some basic research skills? Each family member can choose their favorite animal from the book and share what they already know, what they’ve learned, and what they’d like to know more about that animal. While the internet is always an easy choice, you can use this opportunity to head (virtually or in-person) to your local public library to explore non-fiction books on the animal. Show your child how to use the online catalog to search by call number as a great introduction to library organization!

Also by Steve Jenkins:

As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at raisingrealreaders@gmail.com. 

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