cover image The Lending Zoo

The Lending Zoo

Frank Asch. S&S/Aladdin, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-6678-4

Yes, it works just like a library does: patrons check out real zoo animals to take home. It’s a terrific idea, but Asch (the Moonbear series) opts for a plot that dampens the possibilities rather than amplifies them. His focus is on a chase involving an escaped tiger, Pancake, and his pursuers, “zoobrarian” Miss Perkins and new patron Molly. The elegantly patterned Pancake exudes an intriguing sense of self-possession, and there’s a brief, shining moment when he gives Miss Perkins a dignified and heartfelt hug. But the illustrations’ visual and emotional flatness leeches out much of the whimsy, even when Miss Perkins and Molly zoom over the city rooftops on a motor scooter as Pancake serenely walks past them on a building below. The story wraps up with the narrative equivalent of a shrug: Pancake turns up back where he belongs, prompting the zookeeper to declare, “I guess he just needed some fresh air and exercise!” Lending Zoo posters seen throughout the book (“Take Home a Toucan Today”) give readers a glimpse at what might have been. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)