It’s 1978, and my little brother and I are getting ready for bed. Mom’s beautifully painted, 7 foot high Snuffleupagus looks down at us from the wall. (The bunk beds and WWI bi-plane wallpaper are still a few years away.) Matt bounces his little legs on his bed endlessly, unable to rest… and I wiggle my toes inside the plastic-soled feet of my footed pajamas.
Like it was for millions of other kids, at this point Mom or Dad would come in to end our day with a bedtime story. If I Ran the Zoo was one of my favorites, and to this day is a prime example of what I think is important in children’s literature – particularly the happy, silly, made-up ideas that celebrate imagination and the idea that the world just might be a better place were kids to be put in charge. The fact that it’s never been turned into a Hollywood movie, or chewed up and regurgitated into a million stupid pop culture references – just makes it that much better.
The book depicts an adventure that takes place completely in a child’s daydream. We watch him conjure up creatures to capture, places that don’t exist, using words that make no sense. Yet it makes perfect sense.
As I look around at things I’m unhappy with in this world, I often find myself shaking my head, muttering, “If I ran the zoo…” So the other day, I hopped online and picked up this first printing of Zoo. Dating from 1950, it’s in excellent condition and has none of the awful cropping, re-coloring or other gimmicks that have ruined many of todays reprints of classic books. This is the real deal – every page exactly where I left it, the same flat colors, that old familiar typeface.
All these great memories for the hefty price of eleven dollars.