An exuberant trip to the zoo

Stunning art and clever verse combine in a 'beast feast' that's a treat for adults as well

If the watercolor-gouache-colored pencil-ink-tin foil-candy wrapper-shredded paper-stencil-rubber stamp-collage approach feels like a departure, Douglas Florian's distinctive poetic voice is sure to remind readers just who the man is behind the artistic madness.

Make that exuberance.

Because the author of "insectlopedia," "mammalabilia," and half a dozen other poetry books for young readers has coupled energetic wordplay with wildly creative artwork to produce another, call it a beast feast, in his newest title, zoo's who.

And a feast it is. I found it at least as satisfying - and just as frolicksome - as a good old-fashioned trip to the zoo.

Like any day at the zoo, well-known animal friends share the stage with new or exotic creatures. There's the familiar rhino, of course, a beast who "... wallows in the mud./ He bathes in yucky muck and crud./ And though that doesn't make him cleaner,/ It's wonderful for his demeanor."

But readers will also be pleased to meet the wallaby, a creature in the tradition of Jack-be-nimble: "Walla-be-lively./ Walla-be-light./ Walla-be-gravity-free/ And take flight."

Half the fun of this collection is the poetry itself, which ranges from Florian's understated-yet-smile-producing two-liners - "The massive manta ray/ Always has the right of way" - to his laugh-out-loud linguistic cleverness - "A penguin isn't thin - it's fat./ It has penguinsulation./ And it toboggans through the snow/ On penguinter vacation."

Add to that stunning collages, and it's sometimes hard to know where Florian shines more.

The joy of this read, though, is that text and illustrations don't compete for the audience's attention; each page, whether poem or painting, is a piece of art unto itself.

And yet Florian still manages to make them work together; in many cases, the artwork is an extension of the poem, and vice versa.

Take the poem about the shrew, for example, with its gradually decreasing font size: "A smallest mammal is the shrew./ It's eensie-weensie. / Teensie, too." The facing page offers up an image of the oh-so-bitsy creature with what initially looks like a rainstorm of random letters falling from the top of the page.

Look more closely, though, and you'll see that it's raining synonyms for little. Guess the shrew is tiny, puny, and paltry, too.

A great read-aloud choice for younger children, and a delightful change of pace for newly independent readers, this collection is a treat for the eyes and ears that kids of all ages are sure to enjoy.

Best of all, long after the zoo closes, the animals inside this book are still ready for a romp - ending with a very appropriate shhhhhhhhheep's goodnight.

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