Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO: A TRUE STORY OF HOPE AND HEROES by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner

When I look at the nonfiction books that we weed from our school library, they are often encyclopedia-like books that don't seem to have been written for children. So many older nonfiction children's books are like that. The field of nonfiction books for kids has gotten so much better over the past decade. Now our kids have great nonfiction to read--stories that are interesting and written with kids in mind.

One of my worries is that kids love nonfiction but don't always have the stamina to read anything longer than a magazine article. They check out nonfiction often but when I chat with kids about the books, it becomes clear that they enjoyed the photos but didn't read much beyond the captions.

Stocking our library with great nonfiction on topics that kids can't help but be interested in will hopefully build a stamina for nonfiction and help students find great topics that are interesting to them.

A new nonfiction book I picked up at Cover to Cover this week is SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO: A TRUE STORY OF HOPE AND HEROES. This is a great read. I read it at my kitchen table in one sitting. This is a 60ish page book with great photos spread throughout. It tells the stories of many of Iraq's zoo animals that were saved from terrible conditions. In the introduction, Major William Sumner says, "During my time in Iraq, I was asked repeatedly why we were helping the animals and not the people of Baghdad, but I believe that we were doing both." After reading the stories of rescues throughout the book, this statement becomes so clear to readers. Saving the zoo animals was such an important thing for so many people.

The book begins with some basic history and general information about what was found when people were sent to check out the state of the remaining animals in the zoo. Following the first two chapters, different animals are highlighted. We learn about rescues of a variety of animals over a period of time--bears, Arabian horses, camels, lions and more. Each story can stand alone but together, the stories show the impact of what was done to save these animals.

This is a great story. So often our kids come to the library looking for books about war. I am never sure quite what they want and neither are they. This book does not cover up the tragedies of a war, but doesn't focus on those. Instead this book focuseds on this one aspect of recovery and we get to know the real dangers, the real people and the animals who were involved. And Kelly Milner Halls definitely knows how to write for kids.

This book would make a great read aloud for upper elementary students if you are looking for quality nonfiction that can be read over several days.


  1. This looks good. I'm always looking for non-fiction that will read like fiction for my own students. It's rare that I ever see a middle schooler with non-fiction in their backback.

    And I'm starting to conclude that our library should stop buying non-fiction for research purposes. The online sources are no so good that directing my students to use books and print encyclopedias for research purposes has become questionable.

  2. Thanks so much for this fantastic assessment on SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO. It was such an honor to team up with William Sumner to tell this story, it means the world to me when someone "gets it." You absolutely got it, and I'm so grateful. If ever I can reach out to the kids at your school -- or any other school -- let me know.

    Best always,

    Kelly Milner Halls
    Children's Writer


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