One of our favourite diverse picture books, What do You Do if Your House is a Zoo? is a charming and funny story by John Kelly and Steph Laberis.
Exuberantly told by the BAME boy main character, this is a picture book full of crazy animal characters and increasingly harassed humans!
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I grew up with pets. We had hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, and dogs (though not all at the same time). My cousins had a bearded dragon. And some of my earliest memories are of holding my babysitter’s two large and lovely boa constrictors.
So I feel my daughter’s anguish at not having a pet of our own right now. One day, sure. Just not right now.
All this is to say that What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo, therefore, was the perfect picture book for her. It is the story of a BAME boy who is finally, obviously after much begging, allowed to have pet. But this isn’t the happy end. Instead, it’s the beginning of chaos.
Unable to decide exactly what sort of pet he wants, the boy makes a fateful decision. He puts an add in the local paper, asking who could be the pet for him. And, of course, he gets more answers than he bargains for!
The letters that he gets by reply leave him even more confused. You can skip over them when you tell the story, but they’re amusing little character studies that you can explore on a re-read.
In fact, What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo is full of funny little details like this – both in the text and in the illustrations. This is one of those books where you will discover something new each time you read it.
The boy’s confusion is nothing compared to his parents’ horror when the writers of the letters start to appear at the house. There are the usual dogs and cats, but there are also meerkats, apes, ants and even a space monkey.
Each animal (or animals – there are several who arrive in groups) cause a different kind of havoc. And while the boy is pretty happy with the beavers’ water feature, Walter Whale is a bit of a washout (ahem)!
It gets to the point where the family house has been completely overrun. The parents are a nervous wreck and, even worse, none of the animals are actually even that interested in playing with the boy.
It’s like a Doctor Dolittle house party where gatecrashers have most definitely outstayed their welcome.
There’s only one thing to do, and so the animals are told to leave. Party over, it seems that the boy is right back where he started – pet-less and alone.
But then he finds another letter answering his post. A well chewed and probably soggy missive that got lost in all the confusion. And perhaps there might just be one more animal out there – this time it could be the pet for him…
What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo is a fun frolic of a book. Brightly illustrated with lots of zany details, it’s sure to catch children’s attention and keep them absorbed in this crazy tale. Yet it’s also charming and full of heart, and I love the diversity of the mixed race family at the centre of it all.
But we’re still not getting a pet. Yet…
Buy the book
What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo is available from Amazon here, in both paperback and hardback formats.
By the same author and illustrator
by John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Picture Books with Diverse Characters
Have you seen my full list of the best 23 picture books with diverse characters? Just like What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo, all of these picture books feature black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) boys as main characters. Something that’s as rare as proverbial hen’s teeth in children’s books, and a problem I’ve written about here.
Check out the list to find out more about our favourites, and take a peek inside. If you like the look of this book, I’m sure you’ll find some others to love there too!
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