The Children's Literature Web Guide

Sample Book Ideas for Literature-Based Reading Enthusiasts

From the 1995 edition of:
The Handbook for the Young Reader's Choice Award
sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Library Association.

for more information contact
Gale Sherman:
Bette Ammon:

The 1995 Young Reader's Choice Award Winner (Grade 4-8):
Terror at the Zoo
by Peg Kehret

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Cloth: 144 pages. 1992. $14.00 (ISBN 0-525-65083-0). Dutton. Paper: 131 pages. $3.50 (ISBN 0-671-79394-2). Minstrel.
GENRES: Mystery, adventure, contemporary realistic fiction
THEMES: Zoos, imagination, problem-solving, cleverness, courage, tall tales, criminals, kidnapping, ransom, birthdays, science projects, animal communication, telepathy, camping, rescue, escape, family life, grandparents
READABILITY: Fifth grade
INTEREST LEVEL: Fourth through seventh grade


"Plausible incidents and believable characters combine in a fast-moving and well-constructed tale...While conveniently out of the picture most of the time, the adults are portrayed as responsible and loving. The criminal, motivated by greed, is not inclined toward violence. In addition, Ellen's initial wish to have her new maturity recognized is fulfilled. The title and dust jacket issue an invitation most kids will readily accept." Booklist 88(7):697 December 1, 1991. Karen Hutt.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 45(6):159 February 1992. Deborah Stevenson.

"This highly improbable adventure is not up to Kehret's usual standards, but it will appeal to animal lovers looking for a spooky story. There is plenty of suspense, as the children are never sure around which dark corner the criminal lurks. A baby monkey and, of course, the heroic elephants add color to the story. Lightweight but entertaining fare." School Library Journal 38(1):113-14 January 1992. Bruce Anne Shook.


An award-winning playwright and author of three drama books for students, Peg Kehret lives with her husband and animal friends in an old farmhouse in Washington. Surrounded by apple, pear, and plum trees, Kehret's house provides a tranquil spot for her writing, as well as her husband's hobby of repairing nickelodeons, antique player pianos, and circus calliopes. When Kehret was a child she combined her two interests (animals and writing), and published a Dog Newspaper. When she was twelve, Kehret got polio and although she made a nearly complete recovery, she can still remember the experience of being paralyzed and how it felt to be twelve years old. As a teenager, Kehret wanted to be a writer or a veterinarian. She chose writing but animals often play important parts in her books. In addition to fiction, Kehret also writes plays for community theaters and schools. She speaks frequently at school and libraries and has received the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference Achievement Award which is given for a lifetime body of work. She has also been recognized by The Humane Society and SPCA for her many volunteer efforts. Writing books for Kehret is "too much fun" and she plans to never retire.


Twelve-year-old Ellen and her eight-year-old, wildly imaginative, brother Corey are given a joint birthday gift--a campout at the city zoo. Unusual circumstances cause the two kids to be locked alone in the zoo with an escaped prisoner. His plan, to ransom a valuable baby monkey, is thwarted and the children then become his hostages.


This fifteen-chapter book (containing many sections within each chapter) is fast-moving and will appeal to mystery lovers who love to be thrilled. Mysteries are great to read aloud, but kids also love to read them on their own. You choose!


(Prop: Using a computer program that produces certificates, make a certificate as on page 5--paperback edition. Place it in an envelope, and open at the beginning of this booktalk).

Much to Ellen's dismay, she and her younger brother Corey receive a joint birthday gift from their grandparents. Ellen opens the envelope...

Corey, who was leaning over her shoulder, read the words out loud and then let out a whoop.


"No kidding?" Ellen said. "We get to stay overnight at the zoo?" (page 5, paperback edition)
Does spending the night at a zoo sound like a great adventure to you? A word of warning: this book is called Terror at the Zoo.


Ellen and her younger brother Corey are accidently camping out alone at the city zoo. Corey, who loves adventure, has gone off alone into the night, forcing Ellen to go looking for him. When she finds his flashlight and his camera on the ground, Ellen is frightened.
Something terrible had happened to her brother. She knew it. He would never leave his flashlight and his camera like this. Why was blood on the ground? Was it monkey blood--or human? Where was Corey? (page 70, paperback edition)
And why is this book called Terror at the Zoo?



Ellen and Corey's grandparents purchased the zoo camp-out at a charity auction. Your school or school library could likely benefit from a such an event. Students could propose this activity to the PTA/PTO and volunteer to organize most of the event including contacting businesses for donations, organizing the order for the auction, developing a plan for the money collection, advertising and promoting, developing a separate silent auction, and so on.


Like Corey and Ellen, nearly everyone loves zoos. Interested students can learn more about how zoos developed, what a typical zoo is like, how animals are cared for, and other information about animal characteristics and wildlife conservation. Appropriate books for further study include Zoo Clues: Making the Most of Your Visit to the Zoo by Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld (Viking, 1991), Zoo by Gail Biggons (Crowell, 1987), Working Frog by Nancy Winslow Parker (Greenwillow, 1992), Keepers and Creatures at the National Zoo by Peggy Thomson (Crowell, 1988) and Beastly Behaviors: a Zoo Lover's Companion by Janine M. Benyus (Addison-Wesley, 1992). A related video is Zoo-opolis! (Pacific Arts Video, 1985).

Language Arts/Tall Tales:

Corey is always embellishing everyday events. In his stories, he is the hero and gets his picture in the newspaper. He is a teller of tall tales. After a study of tall tales, students can embellish their own stories and present them as newspaper articles (including a photo) which reveal their "tall" accomplishments.

For examples of tall tales use books such as Stephen Kellogg's Paul Bunyan: a Tall Tale (Morrow, 1984), Johnny Appleseed: a Tall Tale (Morrow, 1988), and Pecos Bill (Morrow, 1986); Ol' Paul, the Mighty Logger by Glen Rounds (Holiday, 1976), Kickle, Snifters, and Other Fearsome Critters Collected from American Folklore by Alvin Schwartz (Harper, 1976), and Ken Kesey's Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear (Viking, 1990).


Ellen's science project involves communicating with animals. Students interested in this sort of topic can consult Can Bears Predict Earthquakes? Unsolved Mysteries of Animal Behavior by Russell Freedman (Prentice, 1982), Pack, Band and Colony: The World of Social Animals by Judith Kohl and Herbert Kohl (Farrar, 1983), How Animals Behave: A New Look at Wildlife edited by Donald J. Crump (National Geographic, 1984), How Smart are Animals? by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Harcourt, 1990), Fish Facts & Bird Brains: Animal Intelligence by Helen Roney Sattler (Lodestar, 1984), Bats, Cats, and Sacred Cows by Tamara Wilcox (Raintree, 1977), Faithful Elephants: a True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya (Houghton, 1988), and Supersense: Perception in the Animal World by John Downer (Holt, 1989).



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Copyright © 1994 by Gale Sherman & Bette Ammon. All right reserved.
Reprinted with permission
The Children's Literature Web Guide