Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo

Written and illustrated by Kevin Waldron

Templar Books, 2010

$15.99, ages 4-8, 48 pages

When Mr. Peek, the zookeeper, wakes up to find he can barely button his jacket, the zoo animals overhear him grousing about his bulging belly and think he's chiding them in this funny story about the folly of jumping to assumptions.

Setting off a chain of misunderstandings that only a mischievous boy can sort out, Mr. Peek begins his day thinking his green jacket, the one that makes him feel important, is much too snug and assumes it's because he's grown fat overnight.

Though only one button pops off when he puts the jacket on, Mr. Peek is baffled by the weight gain and grumbles about it as he goes about his job feeding and caring for the animals, each time getting more and more worked up.

At first Mr. Peek chides himself for being too plump, then his sour disposition gets the better of him, and he sees all sorts of bad things coming his way. Soon he's paranoid his bosses will see his expanding waistline and say he's too old to do his job.

All the while the animals think Mr. Peek is talking to them and they're becoming very glum. Mr. Peek, of course, is so busy wallowing in self-pity that he has no idea that his remarks are being misconstrued.

By the time Mr. Peek is in front of the monkeys, he's muttering to himself that he's a pariah. "Everyone's out to get you!" he declares, unaware that all of the monkeys behind him are bugging out their eyes with worry that they're no longer liked.

But what is Mr. Peek's son Jimmy doing giggling behind a tree in the monkey playpen and why is his jacket dragging on the ground?

What makes this book so fun is how absent-mindedly Mr. Peek goes about his day. He's oblivious not only to how irrational he's being (to think he can outgrow a jacket overnight), but to how harmful his words of self-reproach are to the animals and himself.

The instant I saw this book, with its nostalgic illustrations, I was transported back to my favorite Golden Books by Alice and Martin Provensen and Aurelius Battaglia, illustrators whose simple, uncluttered style, flat blocks of color and brilliant silhouettes enveloped me in innocence.

Whimsical and witty, Waldron's debut is a clever twist on the idiom, "much ado about nothing." By book's end, readers get one more big giggle and leave with a lasting lesson not to leap to conclusions.

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