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In apology for my lack of a good Valentine’s post, allow me to highlight this fabulous book that takes this month’s obsessive heart-theme and turns it on its head, err… into heads. Here is My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall, 2010.

I’ve seen the cover of this book in a few places before and I never actually picked it up. Maybe it was the obnoxiously cute heart-shaped nose that turned me off, or just the computer-graphics look to the illustration. Whatever it was, I’m glad that I put it behind me and gave this book a chance. It is gobs of fun!

The opening phrase is the title, “My heart is like a zoo—” and then the animal extravaganza begins.

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Each page highlights one animal and one characteristic of that animal that can also describe the narrator’s heart. But here is the cool thing, the animals are made out of hearts. Big hearts, little hearts, overlapping, and barely touching hearts… this book is full of hearts in a very nontraditional way.

And the text rhymes with a pattern of simple descriptions leading into a more detailed description and action.

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my daughter (and mine too) favorite spread

Another quirk to this could-have-been-a-typical-Valentine-Day-book-but-not is the colors. No stereotypical overuse of reds and pinks here. Instead the colors are bold, bright, and all across the color spectrum. The animals are represented in colors that could possibly be related to their actual tones, but more basic. The heart-shapes in the animals occasionally overlap as well, creating a transparent look and an almost dimensional feel. These are then paired with vibrant solid color backgrounds and a few accompanying props.

I was pleasantly surprised by this zoo-tastic book. It is fun to read aloud as well as study the animals and try to decipher how many hearts make up each. I can imagine the projects to be made by cutting out a bunch of different hearts and attempting to recreate the animals and make up new ones as well. The back cover even includes a breakdown of the lion face!

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With the bold nature of the book and the simple text, even young kids seem to love this book. And the vocabulary is fantastic for all. The combination of pictures with abstract adjectives is a perfect form for learning. The animals are described as silly, angry, and quiet as well as more complex descriptors such as rugged, bothered, and crafty. I only hope it teaches several cute children to describe themselves as “chatty as a jay” or “bothered as a bull.”

The author/illustrator Michael Hall, is a designer by trade, and has created a couple books in a similar, simple-yet-clever shape concept. I hope to test out more of his work soon. There is a fun interview on Green Willow Blog about his book Perfect Square.

I hope you give this book a try and perhaps it’ll help your heart be as “peaceful as a portly walrus lounging on a towel.”