Z is for Moose cover
Cover illustration
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Z is for Moose

by Kelly Bingham; illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

A simple “A is for Apple” abecedary should be easy to achieve, right? Not in this case.

Clipboard-bearing Zebra is in charge of getting the players on and off the stage in an item-by-item alphabetical pageant, and initially it goes as planned—Apple marches up the stairs on its little green legs (retracted once in position, of course), and poses obediently for the “A” tableau as Zebra peeks around the corner to make sure it all goes smoothly. Which, soon enough, it doesn’t—the excited Moose gormlessly pops onto the stage for D, leaving the distressed Duck fluttering in frustration and the stage-managing Zebra exasperated. The too-eager moose slinks off past the Elephant but comes bouncing back quickly, poking his head into the frame in H in hopes that it’s his turn, peeking out from behind the Ice Cream, prancing across the label on the Jar, and hiding in the pouch of the Kangaroo as he gets ready for his big moment—which is stolen by the Mouse. Moose then tantrums through the rest of the book, tossing O, P, and Q (Owl, Pie, and Queen) head over heels, defacing other subjects with crayoned-on antlers and claiming with petulant absurdity that R and S are also for Moose. Zebra fends him off for a few more letters, plastering himself across the Truck and Umbrella to keep Moose from invading, until finally he relents and allows Moose an appearance when there’s only one more letter left: “Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.”

Disrupted expectations are a particularly satisfying source of humor in books for young people, because that technique is deliciously inclusive, winking at audiences for being in the know as they get the joke. This is a particularly amusing example of the device: the underlying alphabet book is blandly modest, with big-print text, bare staging, and solid-color frames; it will be immediately recognized by young audiences, and it’s ripe for parody. Obstreperous Moose is part Mo Willems’ desperate Pigeon and part Mélanie Watts’ invasive cat Chester, and he will win kids’ hearts with his yearning for inclusion. The art carries the story right from the first endpaper, where Moose hoists the bottom of the magenta curtain drawn over the scene, peering out at the audience and revealing the alphabetical cast waiting patiently in line for their cues. Zelinsky expertly presents the comic theatrics in friendly, guileless watercolors touched with black pencil and backed with digital planes of color. The illustrations cleverly provide viewers with a multiple perspectives; kids will understand what genre the book is theoretically attempting, they’ll be amused by the behind-the-scenes “rehearsal” elements of the production (Ball’s teddy bear waits for him by the edge of the B tableau, biped Cat nips out of her tank top and shorts to pose, purring, on all fours), and they’ll revel in the disaster as chaos overtakes the production.

Yet unlike many comic alphabet-based texts, this actually remains useful for its original purpose; viewers can enjoy the thrill of the hunt as they figure out which alphabetical elements Moose is obscuring or upending and match the line of characters waiting offstage to their relevant letters. Enterprising classrooms may even want to stage their own version of this, and everybody will be elated by this goofy new way of going from A to Z.

--Deborah Stevenson, Editor

And Then It's Spring cover

Cover image from Z is for Moose ©2012 by Paul O. Zelinsky.  Used by permission of Greenwillow/HarperCollins.

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This page was last updated on April 1, 2012.