Zoo by Anthony Browne. Julia MacRae Books, 1992.
Art history playfully demystified. Human apes and ape humans. Anxious children encountering empathy. Simple stories that peel back family and societal dysfunction. The gap between text and image widened to profound inference. Damn. Fine. Art. Any single Anthony Browne picture book will entice you but his body of work as a whole will impress upon you the significance a single voice can have on the picture book genre. The Hans Christian Andersen medal committee saw this significance when they awarded him their medal, the highest international award for a body of work in illustration, in 2000. The British Booktrust also saw it when they appointed him the 2009-2011 Children's Laureate. Browne's books are highly decorated: two have won the Greenaway Medal (Gorilla and Zoo) with others making the honour list. He's also been awarded the Emil/Kurt Maschler Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Book and The Boston Globe Book Award. Gorilla is his most highly decorated book (maybe _the_ most highly decorated picture book of the contemporary award age), but all his books are worth falling headlong into. Me? I'm a fan of his Willy books but his takes on fine art also always reel me in. I also have a soft spot for Silly Billy because it came to me and my daughter at exactly the right time.
I've chosen Zoo because in many ways it is his ugliest book (at least in terms of theme). The beauty of this book lies not only in the quality of Browne's art but in his ability to start a conversation that he leaves the reader to finish. You will never see a family trip to the zoo in the same way once you've read this book. What I find most astonishing about the book is how my reading of it has changed over the years. When I first read the book, all my empathy was for the animals. Now, my empathy shoots off in all sorts of directions at once. The book leaves me feeling deeply conflicted and, frankly, I can't think of higher praise for a book than that.
And a treat from Willy's Pictures: