An uneven tale of a boy saving his city’s zoo.
Young Stu and his mother both love the neighboring zoo. At night, it radiates a great animal music, sometimes soft and sometimes upbeat, but Stu is happy to conduct either like a symphony. Then the action shifts. A fat-cat developer—all skeezy-sleazy, with a nasty comb-over—wants the zoo’s land for a mall and easily buys the city council by padding their pockets. The animals get wind of their fate and take stock. This is the most droll part of the book, with the polar bear “coming apart at the seams.” “Pull yourself together,” instructs the rhino, while the tiger admonishes the slothful sloth to “get your head out of the clouds!” Here readers begin to appreciate that there has been an overarching other-interest all along: that artful expression, the idiom. Then they will start hunting for them: weak at the knees, wear your heart on your sleeve, mad as a wet hen, selling like hotcakes, all ears and wee hours. Which is a good thing, for the story itself is rather artless. Stu conducts the animals in a public forum, and they are a hit. The developer becomes the pooper-scooper at the zoo. One steady hand throughout is Bowers’ artwork—light but lush and charged with character and emotion.
As a hunt-and-peck for idioms, this can be fun and even educational; as a story, this can be forgotten. (Picture book. 6-10)