I read How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (My Life Is a Zoo) by Jess Keating before #nerdcampmi (one of my favorite days of the year-have I mentioned that?). I had heard about the book on Twitter and thought it sounded like a great middle grade novel. Then I saw that Jess would be at #nerdcampmi so I definitely wanted to read it before #nerdcampmi in case I had a chance to meet her.
The book is fabulous! It is about a girl named Ana who is dealing with typical middle school problems. She deals with cute boys, mean girls, school struggles and parents who are sometimes embarrassing. This is the story of a preteen/teen girl who is beginning to figure out who she is.
Her story is unique in that her parents are zoologists so she lives at the zoo while her mom works on a research project. It is perfect because the story is both funny and serious. There were lots of laugh-out-loud parts, but there were also real issues of middle grade and middle school kids. It seems to be the perfect combination.
Ana is a character you care about quickly and I was glad to see that this was the first book in a series. She is likable and vulnerable. She is trying to figure out how to fit in and how to be herself. She is dealing with lots of different relationships and juggling lots of things as middle schoolers do.
And this book happens in the zoo. I found this part fascinating. I am not a zoo person. I go, but it is not my favorite place. However, we do live right near the Columbus Zoo, one of the best zoos in the world from what I can tell. The amazing Jack Hanna lives in our town. And I am a big fan of Jack Hanna. So it was fascinating to me to read some behind-the-scenes zoo stuff. I want to pay closer attention-next time I am at the zoo-to the work going on and those buildings that seem to be empty. The fun of this book is that author Jess Keating used to be a zoologist. So that part of her story made the zoo part of this far more interesting. Love how she took that and brought it to her life as a writer! I love that she is a zoologist/children's author. (Her website has a great feature called #KeatingCreature which shares some great creature info and is lots of fun!)
I don't see this as a book I'd put in a 3rd grade classroom --it seems more perfect for 5th and 6th grade. Maybe even the end of 4th. I had several kids in mind when I read this book--kids who were ready for a tiny bit of romance, kids who like to read about real kids in real life, without the sadness that goes along with some middle grade fiction. I had kids in mind who liked to laugh a little bit when they read but they like humor embedded in real life stories of great characters.
This is really a perfect middle grade novel for upper middle grades. I sometimes worry that our kids are reading all things sad. (And I love a good, sad book.) My youngest daughter is also a fan of sad books. But I know she has said to me more than once during middle school--I want to read a good book, but not one where someone dies or that I'll cry. Our middle grade kids want stories about kids like them, going through every day preteen stuff, figuring out the world around them. This is that book.
I can't wait til the next in this series comes out (January 2015) and I am definitely holding onto this one for a few 5th graders I know this fall.
|Our #TeamShortcut photo. See, we aren't even tired at the end! Jess is on the left, dressed as Beekle!)|
(On a side note, I did meet Jess Keating at #nerdcampmi. We decided early on that for the #nerdrun, we would be part of #TeamSaunter. We had no desire to win, but thought we would support camp by taking part and celebrating some book characters. So a group of us did just that. Well, it was great to walk with Jess and to turn #TeamSaunter into #TeamShortcut. It was great to have some time to chat and to make some new friends. Jess is a great author --one that I am happy to have had the chance to meet! Can't wait to read more of her books! And to maybe Hack that #nerdrun map again:-)