Mar 6, 2018

El Zoo Petrificado

Los Diarios de Cereza
by Joris Chamblain

I bought this book while traveling, because the illustratons intrigued me so much. It's the first book I've ever read in Spanish and actually enjoyed, rather than struggling to translate every sentence. I did have to look up quite a few words, but not enough to slow me down. The original is in French.

It's about a young girl Cereza who dreams of being a writer and likes to imagine other people's secrets. She's busy decorating a tree house with her friends when they notice an old man come out of the woods in paint-splattered clothes. They're nervous and go home. Cereza comes back later on her own and sees the old man again. She decides to follow him and see what he's doing. Without telling her friends and lying to her mom, by the way.

- spoilers ahead -

He's painting scenes of animals on the walls of a derelict, abandoned zoo in the forest. Cereza decides to help him and gets her friends and other kids involved in cleaning up the old zoo grounds. Eventually they get some adults of the town involved as well to make major repairs. Delightfully, the artist not only paints animals on the walls, he renews the paintings periodically to make it look like the animals are feeding, new young are born and grow up, etc. It's a constantly evolving art form. Cereza convinces him to let the town see, and they open the doors to visitors, bringing memories alive for many of the older citizens and recognition to the old man for his art. The front and end pages of the book are like a diary (in a hard-to-read handwriting font) and some of the later pages are news articles about the revitalized zoo in its new format, and criticism/praise of the old man's art. These articles with more formal language was the most difficult for me to read.

- end spoilers -

The story is a nice tidy mystery, and in spite of some flaws (dishonestly, ignoring and criticizing her friends) I rather liked Cereza's character. At the end of the book she determines to find a way to talk more openly with her mother, but isn't quite there yet. While a big part of it is about friendship and acceptance, I admit I liked best the parts about the old man's secret work. I'm reading this book aloud a second time round with my teen, so she can practice her Spanish, and she's quite enjoying it as well.

Rating: 4/5             72 pages, 2017

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