Title: Zoo Boy
Author: Sophie Thompson
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Zoo Boy is Sophie Thompson’s debut children’s novel, and she certainly has a good background in the world of children’s entertainment. Her mother, actress Phyllida Law, presented Play School way back in the 1960s and her late father was Eric Thompson, writer-narrator of cult children’s television series The Magic Roundabout. Sophie is an Olivier award-winning actress in her own right, perhaps most well-known for her appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The story begins in the form of a diary, written from the point of view of our animal-hating protagonist, Vince. It’s his eighth birthday and, much to his dismay, this marks the start of his zoo-keeping career, just as it did for his father and his Grandpa Jacko before him. However, as soon as Vince gets stuck into his chores, he realises things may be slightly more interesting than he initially thought: he can talk to animals!
One-by-one, an unlikely assortment of quirky and brilliantly described animal characters approach Vince, making increasingly outlandish requests: a “hoity-toity” flamingo called Fanella, who wants only pink food; an enormous pig who will eat nothing but free-range eggs; and Juan, an Argentinian llama with a very sweet tooth. Supported by his pirouetting, cocktail-dress wearing grandmother, and a shop assistant on roller-skates called Ping (“who slightly ponged”), Vince sets out to meet all of the animal’s demands.
This book is ideal for use with lower key stage 2 children, who will love the fast-paced yet simple plotline and amusing interjections from the narrator (“I would never want to upset you of all people, dear reader”). Pupils would enjoy rewriting the story, inventing new animal characters with their own set of demands.
They could even take Sophie Thompson’s lead and create their own verbs (“Bob whizzed, Ping fizzed. He whazzled. Ping twizzled”) or nouns (“There was a rustle and a bustle, a fizzle and a fuzzle, a bimble and a brunt”).
From a national curriculum perspective, there is plenty of scope for in-context analysis of the grammatical features required for the Year 3 and Year 4 English curriculum. Zoo Boy is jam-packed full of unique adverbial phrases (“Before he had time to gloat…”). And it demonstrates perfectly what a varied and rich vocabulary looks like (“Gran’s sequinned tassley frock twinkling like a sparkler”). There is also lots of direct speech that could be unpicked.
All in all, Zoo Boy is a teacher’s dream: a book that will engage and amuse even the most reluctant readers, and a useful tool to spice up the potentially dry teaching of those all-important grammar objectives.
Rhea Kurcewicz is strategic lead for teaching and learning at Pye Bank CE Primary.
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