How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

5.0 3
by Jess Keating
     
 

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A 2015 Red Maple Award nominee! "A fun-filled, pitch-perfect book... about the perils of being 12 in a snake-eat-snake world." —Kirkus Starred Review

Ana Wright's social life is now officially on the endangered list: she lives in a zoo (umm, elephant droppings!?), her best friend lives on the other side of the world, and the Sneerers are making

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Overview

A 2015 Red Maple Award nominee! "A fun-filled, pitch-perfect book... about the perils of being 12 in a snake-eat-snake world." —Kirkus Starred Review

Ana Wright's social life is now officially on the endangered list: she lives in a zoo (umm, elephant droppings!?), her best friend lives on the other side of the world, and the Sneerers are making junior high miserable. All Ana wants is to fade into the background.
Yeah, that's not going to happen.

Creature File for Ana Wright:
Species Name: Anaphyta Normalis
Kingdom: The Zoo, Junior High
Phylum: Girls Whose Best Friend Just Moved To New Zealand; Girls Who Are Forced To Live In A Zoo With Their Weirdo Parents And Twin Brother
Weight: Classified
Feeds On: Daydreams about Zackardia Perfecticus and wish cupcakes
Life Span: Soon to become extinct due to social awkwardness

"A wild romp, filled with humor and heart."—Lisa Schroeder, author of It's Raining Cupcakes and the Charmed Life series

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/21/2014
Wry, honest seventh-grader Ana tries to make sense of the middle-school feeding tank while grappling with her best friend's move to New Zealand, the school "Sneerers" clique, and her longtime crush. Then there's Ana's family: her annoying twin brother, whose best friend is suddenly looking kind of cute; her zookeeper parents; and her celebrity naturalist grandfather, who just showed up to make a movie showcasing the whole family. Ana wants to shake her paralyzing fear of public speaking so she can do a presentation at the zoo and also nail an art project meant to express her identity, but she's not sure she has it in her. Readers should find it easy to become invested in Ana's troubles as she looks for the right boy, seeks her moment of glory, and defines herself on her own terms. Keating, a zoologist, enriches her debut novel with fascinating animal facts, awkward moments with a variety of wild species, and "creature files" Ana use to amusingly classify her peers. Ages 9–12. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
""As if junior high isn't enough of a zoo, Jess Keating's debut... [is] a menagerie of laugh-out-loud antics and relatable tween woes." --Anna Staniszewski, author of The Dirt Diary" -

""A wild romp, filled with humor and heart." ~ Lisa Schroeder, author of It's Raining Cupcakes and the Charmed Life series" -

"This debut novel deals with the hardships of junior high in a funny and zany, yet thoughtful, manner. True animal facts that are interspersed throughout the story add wit and provide the reader with some new information. This novel is a must-have for any classroom and library...highly recommended." - Library Media Connection

"A zoologist, an educator, and an author, Jess Keating wrote the perfect book for students: a middle grade guide for navigating a zoo- I mean, middle school... My Life is a Zoo series speaks to tweens" - About.com

"A clever and humorous middle grade book filled with middle school angst and lots of interesting creature information." - Examiner.com

"Debut author Keating delivers a fun-filled, pitch-perfect book...Humor, poignancy and fascinating zoological facts infuse the narrative with a warm conversational tone...An amusing, highly readable book about the perils of being 12 in a snake-eat-snake world. (Starred)" - Kirkus

""Ana's relationships with her parents and grandfather are a perfect blend of respect and frustration, while her lack of self-confidence will resonate with readers... Recommended for fans of Coco Simon's 'Cupcake Diaries' and Stuart Gibbs's 'FunJungle" series."
" - School Library Journal

"An absolutely perfect summer read." - Girls' Life Magazine.com

" Keating, a zoologist, enriches her debut novel with fascinating animal facts, awkward moments with a variety of wild species, and "creature files" Ana uses to amusingly classify her peers." - Publishers Weekly

"Life is literally a zoo for shy 12-year-old Anna, who is trying to avoid seventh-grade bullies while hiding that her family lives among crocodiles and elephants." - Los Angeles Times

"A pleasant, upbeat story and a likable protagonist with whom most readers will empathize. Humorous and honest, this will please a wide audience." - Booklist

"A little bit of romance, a little bit of well deserved revenge, and a whole lot of laughs, heart, spirit, and "I can SO relate" moments, fill the pages of How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. Readers young and old will go wild for this book and impatiently be awaiting its sequel. A definite MUST read!" - Word Spelunking

School Library Journal
07/01/2014
Gr 4–7—Ana and her best friend, Livia, always celebrate their half-birthdays together. Every year, they make the exact same wish at the exact same time as they each bite into cupcakes. Typically, this is easy to do, but Livia recently moved from Denver to New Zealand. When Livia doesn't answer her video chat and Ana's obnoxious twin brother, Daz, finishes her cupcake before she could make her wish, Ana is left facing the bullying Sneerers, unrequited crushes, and potential unwanted fame alone. This is a serviceable middle-grade novel featuring an authentic protagonist and well-paced humor. Beginning each chapter with an animal fact (and Ana's sarcastic responses) feels natural to the narative, but the "Creature File" animal descriptions of human characters don't feel fully thought out and are too sporadic to add interest. Ana's relationships with her parents and grandfather are a perfect blend of respect and frustration, while her lack of self-confidence will resonate with readers. While Keating doesn't tread any new ground, there is a lot to like throughout, especially about Ana. Recommended for fans of Coco Simon's "Cupcake Diaries" and Stuart Gibbs's "FunJungle" series (both S. & S.).—Amanda Augsburger, Moline Public Library, IL
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-04-30
Living in a zoo wouldn't be so bad if the whole school didn't know about it.Middle school is tough under the best of circumstances, and 12-year-old Ana certainly isn't living under those. Her best friend has moved to New Zealand, her parents have moved the whole family to a zoo, and her world-famous grandfather is visiting, which means she's required to appear on television with him. For a shy person, things can't get much worse. But they do! The social bullies get word of her pending moment in the spotlight and use the opportunity to score extra material for torment. Luckily, Ana finds new friends who help her discover her true seventh-grade self and who even help with the seemingly impossible: passing her math finals. Following in the tradition of Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, debut author Keating delivers a fun-filled, pitch-perfect book about one of the most fraught stages of life. Humor, poignancy and fascinating zoological facts infuse the narrative with a warm conversational tone that welcomes readers into the drama that is middle school. The dollop of romance is refreshingly appropriate for middle school readers, and the angst Ana feels over the idea of performing in front of a crowd will touch plenty of sympathetic introverts.An amusing, highly readable book about the perils of being 12 in a snake-eat-snake world. (Fiction. 9-13)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402297557
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Publication date:
06/03/2014
Series:
My Life Is a Zoo, #1
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
263,373
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile:
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Rattlesnakes are born without rattles.

-Animal Wisdom

That's sort of sad, isn't it? I mean, what good is a baby without a rattle? Not that snakes are cute at the best of times, but is that their fault?

Don't. Freak. Out.

It was the day before my twelfth half-birthday, and I was spending it holding the business end of a crocodile.

That's the end without the teeth, by the way. But it can be just as dangerous and infinitely smellier.

"Just keep a nice firm grip with your legs, kiddo," Mike said. Mike is the head keeper in the Crocodile Pavilion of the city's Zoological Park and Gardens. He was sitting on the end with teeth. At nine feet long with black, beady eyes, Louie was a favorite here, but Mike said he hadn't been eating his food like a good little reptile. That meant that the zoo staff had to wrangle him, secure him to this surfboard contraption, weigh him, and then feed him gross-looking brown liquid with a tube. All while making sure we didn't become dinner in the process.

Delightful.

"Okay, everybody," Mike said. "We've got the feeding tube secure. Graham is going to pump some food into him now, so just hang tight." His voice was calm and assertive, the exact opposite of my heart, which was dancing around like a Mexican jumping bean on a sugar rush.

Please, let this be quick.

I gripped my legs tighter on the thick, grayish-green scales. The rough sides of Louie's stomach expanded in and out, like a breathing rock. I knew Mike and his crew were only letting me help because my mom asked them. See, my parents (both zoologists) work at the zoo. Instead of playing video games or hanging out at the mall like regular, normal kids, my brother, Daz, and I spend most of our extra time mucking around behind the scenes, cleaning up elephant poop or counting crickets or tossing fish heads to penguins. You know, glamorous stuff.

Daz loves it because he gets to feed his favorite animals, the snakes. Something about watching the crickets get snapped up makes him cackle like a witch over a cauldron. He also has snakes at home-seventeen to be exact, including an ancient boa named Oscar that he constantly hides in my bed to freak me out. He's living the reptile dream.

Which, let's face it, is more of a nightmare for anyone who thinks animals should have those pesky things called "legs."

A bead of sweat worked its way down the back of my neck. The humidity was always suffocating in the pavilion, and with the hot May sun streaming through the skylights, I felt like an army of itchy ants was crawling all over me. I dipped my head, secretly trying to blow a stream of cool air down the front of my brown uniform. This was one time my glaring lack-of-chesticles was a good thing, but even my superlame training bra was itchy on my skin. I was just glad no one from school was here to see me, frizzy haired and sweating up a stink storm on the back of a reptile. Easy, breezy, beautiful crocodile girl.

As Graham was feeding the disgusting brown goop to Louie, I peeked down at my watch.

Seven minutes.

My fingers drummed against Louie's tail. I had seven minutes to ditch this crocodile and make it to the break room where my laptop was waiting. My chest tightened as I watched Mike take down measurements. Seven minutes until my life would be back to normal. Until everything would be on its way to being right again.

Hurry uuuuup.

I had to make it in time. I just had to. My eyelids fluttered closed, picturing the look on Liv's face when she heard my amazing idea. Who would have thought a cupcake could fix everything? And what perfect timing, with my half-birthday being tomorrow?

It had to be fate.

Ever since we were six and a half years old, my best friend, Livia, and I haven't missed a single half-birthday. We've made a wish on every one and have a pact to do it every year until we die. Last year, we wished for rollerblades on Liv's eleventh half-birthday and got them. My half-birthday before that was for tickets to see West Side Story, our second favorite musical, after Les Misérables, of course. Got that too. Liv says half-birthdays are even more important than regular birthdays because that's when you're at the highest point of your "birthday year," so you get the most amount of magic from your wish.

Ana and Livia's Rules of Half-Birthday Wishing are simple:

1. We have to wear the special homemade chocolate lip gloss that we made on her last half-birthday, so we can smell extra nice for the cupcake we're wishing on.

2. We both have to bite our cupcakes at the exact same time. No cheating.

3. We both have to wish for the same thing. This gives the wish double magic and helps it come true faster.

Usually, it's easy to do all this. But this time things are a lot more difficult. In fact, they're almost impossible.

That's because four days, seven hours, and forty-three minutes ago, Liv moved to New Zealand.

And I mean the actual New Zealand. With the sheep and the hobbits.

In geography terms, that's 7,968 miles away from me in Denver. In best friendship terms, it's just totally sucky. Why did her dad have to take that stupid job, anyway? There are plenty of jobs around in this country. This is why our wish this year had to be worth it.

It has to work.

It was our only chance.

In exactly five minutes, I was going to tell Liv what we should wish for this year.

Just as soon as I got off this crocodile.

"Only a little longer, guys. Everyone's doing great. Last-minute blood sample and we'll be done," Mike said, keeping an eagle eye on Louie's wrapped snout. A surge of pins and needles ran through my leg as I shifted on my knees. Not only was I roasting, now my butt had fallen asleep.

Four more minutes.

Right now, Liv would be loading up her video chat and clicking on my name. I couldn't stop the trembles of anticipation in my toes.

"Great work, people," Mike said, snapping me out of my daydream. "Food is done. Measurements are looking good. Dale is going to go around and untie all the roping, and we will all jump off when I say. Kiddo, I want you to shimmy right back to the tip of his tail. You'll be safest there, and Ben can move back to cover you," he said.

The three men on Louie's back nodded, shifting their weight to prepare. I scooted back, resting my weight on the heels of my boots. My butt and left leg ached.

Two minutes 'til I talk to her.

"All right, three," Mike said.

"Two." Everyone took a deep breath.

"One."

We all leaped and dodged away from Louie's back, with Ben grabbing my shoulders to steer me out of trouble's way. With the ropes gone, Louie ambled away to his pool instantly, leaving the rest of us to sigh with relief. Mike beamed at me and clapped his clipboard against his palm. "Awesome job, kiddo. Not bad for your first croc wrangling, huh?"

I tried to force a smile on my face, but my heart was pounding in my ears. Mike didn't know I was about a minute away from saving my entire best friend future.

"Thanks, Mike," I said, hurrying to follow him through the heavy door out of the exhibit. "Maybe next time I'll take the end with teeth." I grimaced.

"You'll be a pro soon enough. You can be the star of the zoo!" He winked.

"Heh, maybe," I mumbled, scooting away.

Over my dead body.

One minute to go.

The break room of the Crocodile Pavilion was empty when I rushed through the door. I had thirty seconds left. I couldn't keep the smile from my face as I jerked open my laptop on the table and clicked frantically.

Liv's face burst onto my screen as a beaming mess of pixels. She looked small next to the pile of boxes and furniture scattered around her new room.

"Hey!" she exclaimed in a tinny voice. Liv never wore a watch, but that didn't stop her from checking her wrist dramatically and clucking her tongue. "You're late." Her nose scrunched up like it always did when she was joking.

I wiped my sweaty forehead with my sleeve. "I know, I'm sorry. I was on the back of a crocodile," I said.

"Some things never change." She crossed her arms over her chest and fiddled with the tip of her blond hair.

I settled into my chair and pulled the laptop closer. It was so good to see Liv's face, even though it reminded me how much I missed her. It was just wrong for a best friend to move away. Like pouring orange juice on your cereal wrong. "So listen," I started. "I figured it out. I figured it all out!"

Liv's eyebrows lifted. "You finally discovered what that disgusting smell is in Daz's room? Was I right?" Her blue eyes twinkled deviously. "Was it a sacrifice to the Annoying Brother Gods? Is he now their king?"

I shook my head. "No! This is serious! I'm pretty sure he is their king, though. But really. I figured out what we need to wish for tomorrow! And I can't believe we didn't think of it until now!" I bounced in my chair.

"VIP tickets to see Phantom on Broadway? I don't care what people say, that guy is still hot even though his face is all messed up," she babbled. She leaned over in her chair to reach a bowl of cereal and started shoveling spoonfuls into her mouth.

"Even better!" I couldn't stop beaming now. I am a genius. "We're going to wish you home!"

Liv's hand froze in midair, her spoon dripping with milk. "What do you mean? Like wish that we never had to move here?" Her eyes darted around her room.

I blinked. "No, we can just wish for you to come home now! Isn't it great? Every other wish we've made has come true, so this is perfect! I think fate made you move when you did so we could use my half-birthday to undo it!" I leaned back and propped my feet up on the table. "Pretty great, right? It can be like you never left at all!"

And this is the part where she should have said, "Oh, Ana! This is the best idea you've ever had! Then I can come home and we can go back to being best friends who actually live in the same place again! What would I do without you?!"

But no.

Instead, she made a face. "What makes you think that will work?"

I rolled my eyes. "All our wishes have worked! Why would this be any different? We just both have to believe, like always," I explained. Honestly, how she was not jumping up and down at my idea was beyond me. This was my best idea since peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.

She resumed chewing again and shrugged. "I don't know. It seems like it might be a waste, you know?"

My heart sank. "A waste?! How would wishing for you to come back home be a waste? Don't you want to come back?" A dark feeling twisted around my chest.

She sighed. "It's not that," she said quietly. "It just seems like it would be a really hard wish to come true. And then when it didn't..."

"It would, though!" I interrupted. "You have to trust me. Tomorrow, at exactly eleven in the morning your time on my half-birthday, we have to make our wish. All you need to do is remember the rules, wear your lip gloss, and we'll do it together. And I promise, it will work." I nodded eagerly at the screen.

It has to.

I held my breath as Liv puckered her lips the way she always does when she's thinking something over. Part of me wanted to shake her. But the other part knew that deep down, she was probably just afraid we'd be disappointed. I couldn't blame her there.

"Okay," she said hesitantly. "We can try it."

I grinned. "Excellent! I'll find you here tomorrow right after school, okay? Get your cupcake ready!" I lifted my hand in triumph.

Liv nodded. "Armed with frosting!"

I clicked off the video chat and leaned back, letting a slow smile take over my face. The orangutan and "Save the Rain Forest" posters in the break room seemed to be cheering me on. By this time tomorrow, our wish would be made.

This was so going to work.

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Meet the Author

As an author and zoologist, Jess Keating has tickled a shark, lost a staring contest against an octopus, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she spends most of her time writing books for adventurous and funny kids. Her first fiction novel How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied received a Starred Review from Kirkus and has been nominated for a Red Maple award. Visit her online at jesskeating.com.

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