Zackary gazed at the large double doors, waiting for the inevitable. The doors were oak, carved with elaborate spirals and curls, inlaid with gold and silver, and on either side stood armoured guards, eyes unseen behind the shadowy visors of iron helmets. These were the throne room doors of Solaris Castle, and beyond them were the King and Queen of Zedge.
Zackary started to bite his nails, as he often did when nervous, then stopped and glanced at his companion. Beside him on the marble bench sat Sir Godfred, a riding crop laid across his lap. Godfred did not approve of nail biting, and Zakary had felt the sting of the crop more than once. He dropped his hand to his side.
Finally the throne room doors creaked open to reveal an attendant. ‘The King and Queen await your presence, good sirs,’ the man announced.
Zackary sighed as he rose. Whatever Sir Godfred planned to tell the King and Queen, he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be good.
Zackary is the youngest prince in the royal family, and the only non-twin of their seven children. When his third teacher in six months declares him unteachable, his parents are at a loss to know where to send him next, declaring ‘This is serious. Zackary must have an education.’ So it’s off to the not-quite dungeons for him to study with Barnabus the Administrator. Zachary is horrified and more so when he discovers the somewhat unusual methods employed by Barnabus in filing the palace records. Zachary hasn’t been allowed to go to the zoo his grandfather set up, his parents being concerned that he wasn’t old enough. Barnabus sends Zackary to the zoo on an errand and he inadvertently finds himself with a job. It’s one he really enjoys, with a boss who doesn’t treat him as either a prince or the baby brother. His challenge then is to maintain a new double life, keeping the zoo staff from guessing his identity and his family from discovering his job.
Zoos are wonderful places to view a wide range of familiar and unfamiliar animals. This zoo has some particularly unusual creatures. Some will be familiar to readers of Greek myths, but others, like the crying Squonks and the elusive Bandersnatch are less known mythological creatures. Here in the zoo, Zackary finds a world full of cages and containment spells, but also a place where he can be freer than he ever was in the luxury and privilege of the palace. And ironically it is the most fearsome of creatures, a Nucklelavee, en route to the zoo to be contained by both enclosure and magic, that becomes the instrument of his freedom. Sam Bowring introduces many mythical creatures in this frequently funny adventure, but also includes a gentle message about everyone having their place in the world. Recommended for upper primary, early secondary readers.
The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures, Sam Bowring
Pan Macmillan 2009
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