"Then God way up in heaven, for whatever it was worth
Thought he'd have a big old party, thought he'd call it Planet Earth"
-- Bob Weir (1971)
"From her tree Koala hollered, 'Xander, I am not a bear.'
Xander didn't understand her. 'Koala Bear, you're not a
bear?' He stared at her in consternation.
'Sorry for the complication. I know I'm called Koala Bear.
but I am not a bear, I swear. I am a marsupial. Marsupials --
we're rather rare. Will I not be welcome there?'"
Do you remember learning "King Phillip Came Over From Greece Saturday" or
one of its close variations? It is a mnemonic device taught by science
teachers to help students memorize the levels of classification of life forms
(Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). Sorting, grouping,
classifying, ordering: these are essential concepts in science, math, and
other curricular areas that need to be learned, beginning in preschool and
continuing right up through high school and beyond.
Linda Sue Park and Matt Phelan are a very talented pair of homo sapiens.
Through their tale of Xander Panda planning a party at the zoo -- conveyed
in rollicking rhyme and ink-and-watercolor images -- they introduce young
audiences to the concepts that underlie the classification of the various
life forms who are going to be partying out.
At first, it was going to be a panda party. But that would make it a
party of one. So then Xander adds the rest of the bears and the koala
complication arises. This leads to his expanding the guest list so as to include
all of the mammals in the zoo. But then...
"Soon Rhinoceros sent word:
'It may sound a bit absurd,
but I won't come without my bird.'"
"Xander felt a little blue. He chewed bamboo, a stalk or two. He
and paced the floor, then scratched an itch and paced some more.
Finally, a firm decision: Xander's brand-new party vision!
'All the birds and all the mammals, from whooping cranes to hybrid
camels -- anyone with fur or feathers, congregating all together!'"
I particularly love the sweet illustration accompanying that passage,
Xander standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a dozen-plus penguins, a youngster
leaning its head on Xander's leg, and Xander with a look of "What have I
gotten myself into?"
"All God's critters got a place in the choir"
-- Bill Staines (1978)
And this, to me, brings up the even-more important concept to be gleaned
by young audiences from this story. Sorting and classifying is all well and
good, but this is also a story about inclusiveness, about everyone being
invited. It serves as a gentle, subtle, but unambiguous broadside against
cliques, against boys-only or girls-only or whites-only or kids-with
"What a party! What a ball! Lots of new friends, tall and small! Every
creature at the zoo…"
Look at the big smile on every critter's face! See what happens when
everyone is made to feel welcome? Inclusiveness rocks!
Classify this book as a Yes!
40 pages 978-0-547-55865-1
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA