________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 18 . . . . May 10, 2002

cover The Greatest Zoo on Earth.

Frank B. Edwards. Illustrated by John Bianchi.
Kingston, ON: Pokeweed Press (Distributed in Canada by General Publishing), 2000.
24 pp., pbk. & cl., $5.98 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-894323-22-X (pbk.), ISBN 1-894323-23-8 (cl.).

Subject Heading:

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by L.M. Sykes.

*** /4

excerpt: image

No one had ever before assembled such a magnificent collection of beasts in one place. Thousands of people lined up day and night to visit the Greatest Zoo on Earth, and J. Quigley soon became a very wealthy man. He charged a nickel a visit, and some families came every week to have a look.

The Greatest Zoo on Earth chronicles J. Quigley Dumbleton's efforts to become the greatest zookeeper in the world. The year is 1899, and Dumbleton has successfully captured the largest animals available. Elephants, hippos, giraffes and others are displayed in his New York zoo. The public flocks to see the animals, and the zoo appears to be a hit. After two years, however, the large animals begin to shrink, thereby posing a problem. Concerned that his animals are no longer thriving, Dumbleton heeds the advice of Jeremy Pennywhistle, an assistant cage sweeper, and begins to exercise the beasts. Immediately, there are problems as the animals' presence causes confusion in the streets and rivers of New York. In desperation, Dumbleton turns again to Pennywhistle, and this time his suggestion results in a happy ending with the animals' being returned to their natural habitat and Dumbleton's becoming a safari tour guide.

     Frank B. Edwards, author of A Dog Called Dad and Mortimer Mooner Stopped Taking a Bath, packs an environmental punch in The Greatest Zoo On Earth. The tale is told in the third person in a reporter-like fashion, and, as a result, the plot moves along quickly. Edward's colourful main characters, the ambitious but shortsighted J. Quigley Dumbleton and the practical and wise Jeremy Pennywhistle hold the reader's attention as does the interesting vocabulary which includes such words as pachyderm, magnificent, safari, gangly and erected. The tone of the story is light and contains some tongue-in-cheek humour ( "...the world's tallest giraffe had become noticeably shorter, because it had stopped holding its head up.") While the tone is light, it should be noted that the story's message is anything but. Few can dispute Pennywhistle's observation that "people are far better visitors than animals are," but the book's moral is rather too obvious with money and wealth being mentioned several times.

     John Bianchi's distinctive illustrations, as previously seen in books like Penelope Penguin and Snowed in at Pokeweed Public School, are a wonderful complement to Edward's quirky tale. A combination of watercolour and ink, Bianchi's animated scenes contain a great deal of humour, colour and life. Together, Edwards and Bianchi have once again created an entertaining read for children and adults. The Greatest Zoo on Earth is worth purchasing. It would enhance an environmental or Earth Day theme or author/ illustrator study on Edwards/Bianchi and will be appreciated for the wit contained both in the writing and the cartoon illustrations.


Lisa Sykes, who has worked as an early years teacher and teacher-librarian, is currently at home enjoying her time with her two young children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364