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If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

If I Ran the Zoo (1950)

by Dr. Seuss

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Gerald McGrew likes the zoo, but he can't help but wonder what it would be like if he ran the zoo. If that were the case, he'd be sure to find all kinds of unusual animals and travel the whole world to find them. And so we get to glimpse inside Gerald's mind as he fantasizes about a number of kooky imaginary animals and how he'd get them to his zoo.

This is among one of Dr. Seuss's earliest picture book titles, but it's already full of classic Seussical elements, such as the fast-paced rhyming text full of imaginary creatures with bizarre names and the accompanying illustrations of these furry, spindly, far-fetched beings. But like with some of his other earlier works, this title doesn't have the popularity of Dr. Seuss books like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, etc. One thing that I can't help but notice about these less popular early ones is how much more they are a product of their times. Virtually all of the "characters" in this book are male - yes, even the fictional animals, including the hens (which by definition should be female!). Sadly, however, that hasn't changed much over the years. The more glaring issue is how badly the "other" is treated in the pages of If I Ran the Zoo, with some of the worse stereotypical depictions of non-Caucasian people and the downright lack of acknowledgement of people from foreign lands actually being people. Take these lines for instance:

"I'll capture a scraggle-foot Mulligatawny,
A high-steeping animal fast as the wind
From the blistering sands of the Desert of Zind.
This beast is the beast that the brave chieftains ride
When they want to go fast to find some place to hide.
A Mulligatawny is fine for my zoo
And so is a chieftain. I'll bring one back, too."

The accompanying illustration is of a camel-like animal being ridden by a turbaned man with a scimitar at his side. Apparently a Middle Eastern man (one who seems to be stuck in an earlier century's costuming) is so fantastical to both Dr. Seuss and his readership that he is worthy of a place in the zoo, as if the zoo were synonymous with "freak show" and this person were not in fact an actual person with autonomy, a family of his own, thoughts, feelings, etc. I know this may be reading a lot into a silly picture book for many people, but the implications are too easily there for me to fully enjoy this book or recommend it. I'm glad I read it on my own before sharing with any children, as I would rather not do that. There are enough wonderful Seuss books out there that to share with little ones. Being as there are other fun parts of this book, I did appreciate some of this book as an adult, especially for the combination of new and nostalgia wrapped up in reading a Dr. Seuss book that I hadn't read before. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Nov 6, 2014 |
I love all of the Dr. Suess books but I didn’t remember this book specifically so I decided to refresh my memory. This book didn’t let me down. The plot of the story is a little kid letting his imagination shine as he explains what the zoo would be like if he was in charge. The character development wasn’t something Dr. Suess emphasized on. He just puts a boy in the story and you get to learn how much he would do to create the best zoo. The way Dr. Suess uses strange sentences like “and captured the fine fluffy bird bustard”. His writing keeps you on your toes and his way of describing really brings the reader in. I really enjoy the way Dr. Suess writes. I have a smile on my face the whole time. An example of this is a page in the book where the boy says “And then I’ll go out and capture some Chugs, some keen-shooter, mean-shooter, bean-shooter bugs”. The creative writing by Dr. Suess along with the simple color scheme of the illustrations made a real appealing read. The pages are white with little color and the same colors throughout. The words are descriptive but the illustrations are not. The point of view is first person told by a little boy. It’s cool to see the little boys imagination of what the zoo would be like if he was in charge.
  JordanMyers | Oct 21, 2014 |
If I Ran the zoo,is about a boy who is bored of going to the same old zoo over and over again. He wants to make a better zoo. Therefore, his zoo will be talked about more than ever. The boy is named Gerald McGrew, and he says, "My new Zoo, McGrew zoo, will make people gawk, at the strangest odd creatures that ever did walk." So the animals are like wonders to the people because they are different from the norm. A good book for K-3. ( )
  sabdelaz | Mar 2, 2014 |
One of my favorite books by Dr. Seuss! ( )
  cdelonis | Dec 10, 2013 |
This book is about a little boy that tells us exactly what animals would be in the zoo if he ran the zoo. I like this book and would use it in my classroom because it inspires the children in my classroom to think about what they would do if they ran the zoo. I would use this book with anywhere from 3 year olds to 5th graders. When I use it with 3 year olds I shorten it a lot cause it is really long.
  Ashley_Pabst | Sep 12, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394800818, Hardcover)

"It's a pretty good zoo," said young Gerald McGrew, "and the fellow who runs it seems proud of it, too." But if Gerald ran the zoo, the New Zoo, McGrew Zoo, he'd see to making a change or two: "So I'd open each cage. I'd unlock every pen, let the animals go, and start over again." And that's just what Gerald imagines, as he travels the world in this playfully illustrated Dr. Seuss classic (first published back in 1950), collecting all sorts of beasts "that you don't see every day." From the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant to the blistering sands of the Desert of Zind, Gerald hunts down every animal imaginable ("I'll catch 'em in countries no one can spell, like the country of Motta-fa-Potta-fa-Pell"). Whether it's a scraggle-foot Mulligatawny or a wild-haired Iota (from "the far western part of south-east North Dakota"), Gerald amazes the world with his new and improved zoo: "This Zoo Keeper, New Keeper's simply astounding! He travels so far that you think he would drop! When do you suppose this young fellow will stop?"

But Gerald's weird and wonderful globe-trotting safari doesn't end a moment too soon: "young McGrew's made his mark. He's built a zoo better than Noah's whole Ark!" Some of the text and illustrations--imaginative as they are--are obviously dated, such as the following passage: "I'll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant/ With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,/ And capture a fine fluffy bird called the Bustard/ Who only eats custard with sauce made of mustard." And your children may be the first to recognize that attitudes have changed since the xenophobic '50s. But that doesn't mean this tale need be discarded; instead, it should be discussed. Ironically, Seuss was trying here--in his wild, explosive, and sometimes careless manner--to celebrate the joys of unconventionality and the bliss of liberation! (Ages 4 to 8)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

If Gerald McGrew ran the zoo, he'd let all the animals go and fill it with more unusual beasts--a ten-footed lion, an Elephant-Cat, a Mulligatawny, a Tufted Mazurka, and others.

» see all 3 descriptions

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