My pal Josh Funk informed me today that it is National Zookeepers Week! It’s a good day for story time:
As a kid, I always thought it would be so cool to live in a zoo. I wanted hippos and lemurs as neighbors! I even asked my parents if they would let me sneak into the zoo and stay overnight, so I could experience the dream! (They said no, womp womp. And sidenote: they also denied me a trip to Africa so I could find Tarzan, but I digress.)
Many of you know that I grew up and studied Zoology, ultimately landing myself in a grad program that focused on cognitive ethology—the study of animal minds—and how humans and animals interact together. No jokes, the same month that I wrapped up that (awesome yet intense!) program, a random silly phrase popped into my head. “How to outrun a crocodile when your shoes are untied…”
I had no idea what it meant! Luckily, I wrote it down in one my million notebooks. Soon, I began to play around with story ideas. At that point, I’d written several nonfiction books for educational publishers and science articles for magazines, but I’d never realized I wanted to write a novel. I was a lifelong bookworm, but wasn’t sure if I could create one myself.
But running over that phrase again in my head, I realized I already knew the story I wanted to tell. The story of a girl who lived in a zoo, with dreams so much bigger than she allowed herself to see. I wanted it to be thoughtful, hilarious, and above all, a voice that felt real to readers. When Ana finally started talking to me (both in my head and on the page!), I knew I couldn’t give up until her story was out there. I’m so glad I stuck with it!
Today, there are three MY LIFE IS A ZOO books, and they started me on a journey I could never have imagined, full of challenges and nerdy friends and big dreams. I’m so thankful for everyone who has championed these books with their kids and students. A lot has changed since those early days, but I still think hippos and lemurs would make awesome neighbors.
Happy reading, guys! Thanks for being on the journey with me.