Great Books: If I Ran the Zoo

Jul 26 2006

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.

If I Ran the Zoo

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.

2 responses so far

  1. It’s amazing how deeply books can impact – one of our family favorites is Raymond Briggs’, “The Snowman”. Pure, beautiful, wordless yet overflowing with words – we immerse ourselves in it often.

    I hope my boys will remember the books we’ve shared with them when they’re grown up and running the zoo.

  2. anonymom aka bun's gram

    Thanks for the fun memory! I showed your illustrations and book “We’re Having a Tuesday” to one of my knitting students who is a third grade teacher. I had told her about it and then gave her one as a gift because she remarked to me last week that there are many, many of her students who are going through divorces and a large number of them are in shared custody every week. Thus, your book came to my class with me and will now often be read aloud. (She said it will be perfect for her purpose.) When I pointed out Bun and told his little biography, I looked up and there wasn’t a dry eye around the table of eight students. Each had either a memory of their own “Bun”, or as parents, had their own “Bun” story to share. What a beautiful discussion we had yesterday. One woman’s son’s Teddy is even in a shadow box frame at her house and that guy just had his first son last week. She is anticipating opening it one day, when the little guy can appreciate it. Thanks for the special memories that books and toys create for us.

Leave a Reply