Usually I like to write these little “Read Balloon” posts on books I recommend, books that are currently popular with the adults and child in our household, books we all adore. Not so today. Because when I really thought about Harper’s most beloved book this week, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s A Day at the Zoo, by Marion Conger, and illustrated by Tibor Gergely.
Let me say this: the illustrations are exceedingly charming. The book was first published in 1950, and they very much have that vintage beauty, not to mention really lovely vivid colors. As for the text, well, as a friend who was ordered to read the book to Harper said afterwards, “Wow! What a story!” She was kidding. There is no story. There is no semblance of a story. There are some pages that are so pointless I laugh when I get to them. “And here are two proud American eagles,” says one page. That is all. Huh?! Marion Conger, I bear you no ill will. I’m sure you were a nice lady, and my child thinks you’re a literary genius so maybe I am just missing something. But MAN.
That said, Harper is OBSESSED with this book (which incidentally I found at the wonderful Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights. They have the sweetest little children’s section.) We actually have four of these vintage Little Golden Books — I Can Fly, which I can heartily recommend, and The Poky Little Puppy and The Animals of Farmer Jones, about which the less is said the better. So Harper has taken to referring to these books as “all of them,” and carrying them around, tucking them into her bed, etc, all together in a set. I’d like to add that this is sort of an eerie display of genetics at work, as anyone who has ever seen my husband’s record collection can attest. Also, Adam apparently told Harper to be careful with these books’ brittle paper pages (collectors!) so now she is always telling everyone, “These fragile.” Next thing I know she’ll be storing them in plastic sleeves, filing them in alphabetical order, and looking up their resale value on eBay not that she would actually resell them.
But of “all of them,” A Day at the Zoo is by far most beloved. I’m not saying it’s terrible. Molly and her Daddy go to the zoo. All the daddies wear suits and hats (maybe there’s a toddler world-Mad Men sort of appeal?). They look at animals. They have a 1950s-healthy meal of hot dogs, chocolate milk, and chocolate ice cream. Molly rides a camel. (This is Harper’s favorite part.) Molly wishes she will come to the zoo again someday. It’s cute. It’s innocuous, and very sweet, and Harper likes going through all the animals.
And just when you think you’ve gotten to the end, there is a song (with FOUR VERSES!) complete with very helpful music because obviously I can sight-read musical scores because what kind of crap mother wouldn’t be able to. Harper requests this song too, so I make up some tune and sing it. Tonight Harper sighed at the end of the book and said, “I love this. Harper love this book.” And then requested it again.
What can you do?