Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Golden Book of Zoo Animals

The Golden Book of Zoo Animals
William Bridges ~ Scott Johnston
Golden Press, 1962

Regardless of your views on zoos -- politically, environmentally or ethically -- one has to admit they are mired in the collective consciousness of us all. And this post is not a debate on whether or not zoos should or should not exist in the world, so please, take it for what it is... a look at a children's book from the 60s on the subject.

That said, this one doesn't include the hard core Hatari images of wild animal capture that How the Animals Get to the Zoo does. It tends to focus more on true animal rescue stories and human/animal interaction with these fabulous paintings by Scott Johnson. (Anyone know anything about this guy?) The top picture from a story entitled "Robbery in the Snake House" strikes me as particularly awesome in its composition.

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm a weeper. My son's memoirs will, I'm sure, include an entire chapter called "She Weeps When She Reads Aloud". In "The Alligator That Ate Hamburgers" we meet an old man at the end of his life who wanders into a zoo reptile house...

For a long time he stood in front of the Alligator Pool and watched one of the keepers feeding the Alligators with bits of fish. The keeper would pick up a piece of fish with a long pairs of tongs and hold it near the Alligator's jaws and the fish would disappear. When the feeding was over, the old man walked slowly up to the keeper and unbuttoned his coat. Underneath, nestled up against the old man's shirt, was a two-foot-long Alligator.

"Hey!" said the keeper. "Watch out! That Alligator's big enough to take your finger off."

"Maybe he is," said the old man. "But he won't. He's my friend. I raised him since he was a little thing. What I want to know is, if I gave him to you, will you give him hamburger to eat everyday. He likes hamburger."

The story unfolds and we learn that the old man had rescued the gator from a gutter in the city where a pack of wild boys was throwing rocks at it. He adopted it, and the gator become his only companion. The gator ate what he ate, and it slept in bed with him... UNDER THE COVERS! The old man had to undergo some operations and returned only once to the zoo when he tells the keeper he won't be able to return again.

"But that's all right," he said. "I can see you're taking good care of my friend. That's all I wanted to be sure of."

Needless to say, some tears were shed. I'm a sucker, right? One day the boy will thank me for passing down the sentiment.


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se7en said...

Love it!!! How did I miss this in my childhood!!!

Hazel Terry said...

Love the hippo, it's fab.

Harriet said...

I have this book! I'm trying to get another copy as the tiger in the front is missing his face, someone has torn it out - it's such a beautiful book and very much treasured.

Harriet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I took a copy with me when I interviewed for a Curator's position at the Bronx Zoo. The General Curator hadn't seen this in years, and stopped asking me questions while he thumbed though it. I didn't get that job, but I made a friend.

Anonymous said...

I had this book when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. It must have been a favorite of mine but was given away as I got older. I remembered some of the paintings ... the hippo eating the bread, and the animal in the road in the cars headlights, but unfortunately I thought the title was "The Zoo Book". Unfortunately this caused a lot of dead ends and wasted time as I searched for it over the decades, but as soon as I saw your photos I knew I found it! How strange to see these images after over 50 years!! Thanks for posting...

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