I feel like I need to make an apology to Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo. One day, a while a go, a woman came into the bookshop and described a book to me that was a lift-the-flap book, where a child was getting a whole lot of presents from a zoo, and there was a whole lot of animals in it – ‘The child gets a snake, but it is too scary, so she takes it back, and gets an elephant, but it is too big, so she took it back, and so on until she gets a puppy.’ I had no idea which book she was talking about, because I had never taken the time to read Dear Zoo, or any of Rod Campbell’s books. I thought they were just silly little board books, which just labelled animals, and didn’t have any story.
The woman came back to the counter a few minutes later, saying ‘here it is!’.
After that, of course, I felt like I had to read Dear Zoo. I had completely underestimated the amount of storytelling that was being told in such a simple board book. It was not just a book about which animal is which – it is a story too, even if every page follows the same rhythm.
It is always hard to write and engaging picture book. But to write one with so few words – probably less than 100 words in total – and still have it tell a story, is truely an art. I have made a point of flicking through more board books as I shelve them, so not to make the same mistake. I don’t want to underestimate the power of the board book!