Review: Midnight at the Zoo

There was Night at the Museum, and now there’s Midnight at the Zoo!

The gist: Max and Mia are very excited about their upcoming visit to the zoo with their school. However, when the big day arrives, their nerves force them to hang at the back of the lines while the other children charge forward. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as they are able to take their time exploring and, in doing so, get separated from the group (very bad health and safety risk assessment on the part of their teacher! ;-).) They are forced to spend a night at the zoo but this is when the place really comes to life! The animals, who are very good at hiding in the daytime, all come out to party and Max and Mia are made very welcome indeed.

The verdict: I am new to Faye Hanson’s picture books and Midnight at the Zoo is a fantastic introduction to her work. There’s a lot to like in this beautiful book, especially the detailed and intricate artwork (the endpapers are amazing – at the front, we have a detailed sketch of the zoo and its animals by day, and at the back how it changes for the night). The palette changes in the middle of the book: at the start, when the children arrive at the zoo in the daytime, the colours are normal, muted, and pretty. In the second half, when nighttime arrives, the background is dark and psychedelic explosions of colour hit the pages.

Max and Mia change as the story progresses. From initial excitement, through to worry and then joy, they experience the gamut of emotions all children must feel on school trips. This is a great book to show how those feelings are all normal and how it’s possible to have an amazing time despite, or even because, of your fears. Hanson explains how Max and Mia weren’t frightened of being alone in the zoo because ‘Max is very good at being prepared’, especially with Mia’s help.

Children who love animals will love this book too. There are all sorts to explore in the drawings and this would be an excellent read before going on your own trip to the zoo.

While this book can be read and enjoyed with a large group of children, I would say that it works best in smaller groups or one to one. This is because Faye Hanson includes some fun clues as to the whereabouts of the animals during the day – no one can see them in their pens, but there are little signs that they are about. But you need to look closely to spot them! Readers can return time and time again to this book and still find something new and exciting.

Using the book educationally

Literacy: Midnight at the Zoo is a fantastic resource for teaching children alliteration in a fun way! We have ‘flouncing flamingos’ and ‘mischievious monkeys in marvellous mountains’, for example. This could introduce a session on encouraging children to think of their own alliterative phrases to describe animals.

The beginning of the book is packed with similes, for example:

  • trundle like elephants
  • cling like monkeys
  • nibble like lemurs
  • hid at the back like scaredy meerkats

The great thing about these examples is how they can encourage children to think about the way in which animals move and to use more interesting verbs (I love ‘trundle’ – very onomatopaeic!).

Science: You could use this book as a fun introduction to learning about animals. To add an artistic element to learning, children could attempt their own versions of the animals drawn in this book. The class could vote on the most popular animal!

Emotional learning: Max’s and Mia’s emotional journey through the book can be helpful for discussing issues such as anxiety, fear, excitement and bravery. At the beginning of the book, they cling to their mother when she drops them off at school but, by the end, they have had an amazing time. Children could talk about times they found difficult and how they overcame their worries.

Thank you to Templar Publishing for the review copy of this book, which did not influence this review in any way.



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