Sunday, January 22, 2006


Marino, Gianna. 2005. ZOOPA. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811847896 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-3]

The first two-page spread in this wordless alphabet book forms a yellow placemat on a gingham tablecloth. Readers see a bowl of tomato soup in which the letters A and B float and must infer that these two lonely letters correspond to the ant perched on the soup bowl’s rim and the butterfly in the image’s lower right hand corner. As each page adds two new letters and two new animals for identification, riotous action begins to fill the scene. Sometimes the animals are obvious: you can’t miss the grasshopper in pink tennis shoes or the chipmunk carrying a long-handled net in his backpack. Other times children will need to study the drawing’s details: elephants appear on the bowl’s rim, as if they were part of a design, and a single unicorn appears to decorate the spoon handle. Ultimately, a zebra explodes into the bowl-breaking conclusion.

This picture book works well when read aloud--groups of children collectively supply the words implied by Marino’s vibrant gouache depictions of a bird’s eye tabletop view. When read independently, the pages will prompt a slower reading for those who want to study the pictures for every humorous detail. The number of animals in each painting grows steadily from two to twenty-six, but each image becomes exponentially more complex as the different characters interact. The ant that appears on the first page, for example, spends time playing with the butterfly, fleeing the frog, hiding behind the iguana, and fleeing once again. The hedgehog goes for a swim and bites the monkey’s tail before the monkey fixes him with a reproachful glare. Finally, Marino names each animal in a visual glossary. This ingenious concept book will mesmerize young readers with its fresh take on a familiar genre.

Children can choose a new theme or topic like plants, foods, or even names to create their own alphabet books.

Other alphabet books with limited text:
Joyce, Susan. ALPHABET RIDDLES.ISBN 0939217503
Rose, Deborah Lee. INTO THE A, B, SEA. ISBN 0439096960

By Suzy Parchman

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