W.C. Fields knew that the most dangerous scene stealers in show business are babies and animals. Everybody loves ’em. So here’s the concept: Let’s do a book about animals that are babies. What? Somebody just brought one out? Called Zoobabies? Bummer.

Villard, publisher of this collection of portraits of young animals by photographer Michael O’Neill, doesn’t classify Zoobabies as a children’s book. But it’s hard to imagine anyone paying $17 for this slim volume without intending to show a kid (or kids) what elephants, orangutans, rhinos, hippos, lions, cinnamon bears, and 19 other creatures look like when they are kids. O’Neill’s approach is stark and classical: The animals are posed in front of studio backdrops and photographed in black and white, often with the kind of flattering lighting that celebrities and corporate big shots insist upon. But a lot of these little critters are just too adorable for an adult unattended by children, so you’ll want to read Zoobabies with at least a few babies.

As the kids gaze at pictures of a skittish armadillo (he’s outta here) or an adorable koala (Fields would have hated this cutie), be prepared to provide your own stories. The Remedial Zoology 101 text that accompanies each photo doesn’t make for very memorable bedtime reading — for kids or adults. Curiously, although most of the animals were less than a year old when O’Neill photographed them, the descriptions rarely re-fer to the world of young animals. So let’s start with zoobaby Sleeping Beauty. ”Once upon a time there were three little pot-bellied pigs…” C+