Animal Albums

Animal Albums
Age Range
Release Date
March 26, 2024
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Cece Bell loves music and collecting old record albums, her introduction explains, especially albums featuring animal artists. The bouncing harmonies of the Barbershop Beagles, the elegant crooning of the elephant Ella Fontaine, the hilarious rhymes of the Hip-Hop Hedgehogs—all are represented in this quirky ABC book that draws on the creator’s personal collection of albums, memorabilia, and lyrics dating between 1944 and 1984, the heyday of album design. With wry, witty text, silly and sumptuous sound play, and biographical end matter on all twenty-six musical acts, the book commands and stands up to repeated readings. Bright, zany art—all painted and lettered by hand—a stellar design, and an album-size trim make it a collector’s item in its own right, sure to grace the coffee tables of vinyl- and design-loving adults even as it tickles young funny bones. A hootenanny hosted by the creator of the Newbery Honor Book and Eisner Award winner El Deafo, Animal Albums from A to Z also quietly reminds us just how much music can mean to everyone.

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Think of this a Zoo K-Tel
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You may know Cece Bell from her popular and award winning middle grade graphic autobiography, but I have to say that Animal Albums is a singular tour de force of poetic quirkiness that completely blows that book out of the water.

This starts on the odd premise that there were a number of albums back in the day that were recorded by animal bands, and Bell has collected these over the years. Starting with Arnie Dillow's Accordion Americana Album, featuring the song "My Aromatic Armpit is Astonishing to All" and ending with The Zydeco Zebras Zigzag Zinnia with it's catchy "You Snooze, You Ooze", we have an entire alphabet of animal albums. Each letter gets an album cover, employing recognizable 1950s and 60s graphics as well as weird and colorful pictures of the animals. On the facing page are the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, and I would bet money that Cece Bell has a playlist in her head with tunes for each and every song. Why isn't there a CD that comes with this book?! (Oh, right, because it's 2024 and everything is digital.)

Good Points
The controlled and deliberate chaos on each cover is hard to describe, but is absolutely delightful. My favorite has got to be Jump Jive & Jazz: Jaguar Jamieson and Jenni Jerboa, with songs like Jackrabbit's Jamboree, Juniper Jelly, and Judy Jumps on Jupiter. I don't know what Bell's been eating before she goes to bed, or what kind of dinner table conversations go on in her home, but I bet that she collapsed in hysterical laughter on more than one occasional while making notes for this book.

I am horribly critical of poetry and rarely pleased with the rhyme and meter in picture books. I mean, if I can fix it and make it better, why couldn't the author or the editor? That said, there is little I can fault with Bell's rhyme (we get awesome combination like stellar/propeller and hurricane/novocaine) or her rollicking meters, except perhaps that I don't have a musical score so that I can sing them!

The other brilliant part of this book is that it employs the kind of humor that can be appreciated on both a child level and an adult one, like Watson's epic Stick Dog series. Sometimes being an adult reading aloud to children is a thankless job, and there are only so many books one can read about going to bed or making new friends. But if I can read one or two poems a night about a quokka who isn't qualified for jobs because of his cologne or fleas in the flapjacks, I might be able to read Baby Blue Cat and the Smiley Worm Doll (an actual favorite in my house) just one more time.

What are read alikes for this? Few and far between, that's what they are. Other than Sandra Boyton's delightful Dog Train or Hog Wild (which DID come with CDs, by the way) I can't think of another foray into the unexplored history of vintage animal albums. Make sure you buy a copy for each fan of this title in your house in order to avoid the inevitable squabbles over who gets the family copy in 25 years. You'll thank me.
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