Child magazine's Best Children's Book Awards 2005
Room with a Zooby Jules Feiffer
Julie wants a dog more than anything in the world, but her parents won't let her have one until she's old enough to walk it by herself. Julie does manage to collect some other pets while she waits, though: a sick cat, a hamster, a big, ugly fish, six smaller fish to keep the big fish company, a turtle, a strong-minded kitten, an unresponsive hermit crab, and a borrowed classroom rabbit that seems to be dying. All in one bedroom. Is enough ever enough for this critter connoisseur?
Child magazine's Best Children's Book Awards 2005
Read an Excerpt
A ROOM with a ZOO
By JULES FEIFFER
Hyperion Books for ChildrenCopyright © 2005 Jules Feiffer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI have a zoo in my room. I need it. Because I'm either going to be a vet when I grow up or a zookeeper.
My father and mother and sister know I love animals. Even before I had my first, we were watching TV in my parents' bedroom and a commercial came on for dog food. I said, "I want a dog." I knew they'd say no.
And my father said, "No. You can't have a dog because you're too young to walk a dog and your mother doesn't like dogs and your sister is sixteen and she's got school and acting classes after school so she's not going to have time, so who do you think is going to end up walking your dog?"
And I said, "You." And he said, "No, and this is why not. I've owned two dogs and walked them all hours of the day and night and I'm too old to do that ever again all by myself. You can have a dog when you're old enough to walk your dog by yourself. And sometimes I'll walk him with you."
"How old do you have to be?" I asked. "Twelve," my father said. "Eleven," my mother said. "Eleven and a half," my father said. "Ten," I said. "Eleven," my father said. "Ten and a half," my mother said.
That's when I got my good idea. "You don't have to walk a cat, do you?"
I could tell how really good the idea was by the expression on their faces. I could have counted up to ahundred before they said anything.
It was my mother first. "I don't see how we can get out of this."
My father said, "I think we've been tricked."
So we agreed on a cat.
Chapter TwoThe cat was called Timmy. We got him from an animal shelter. He was just a kitten. And he had a cold. And he wouldn't eat or drink anything, and he just lay there not moving at all.
His color was like a tiger but without the stripes. Though you could see on his fur or coat where stripes should have been but they weren't. His hair was short and spiky and when I petted him, it was like I stroked straw.
I held him in my arms and in my lap. I wanted to keep him on my pillow when I went to bed, but my mother and father wouldn't let me because they were afraid I'd wake up and he'd be dead.
The first two days my father was on the phone to the animal shelter maybe ten times. Every time he hung up, he looked sadder. "What did they say?" me or my mother would ask, and every time my father gave the same answer, "They said, 'No problem.'" As if "No problem" was a kind of evil curse-like Timmy was as good as dead. It made me want to cry.
My mother hugged me and got mad at my father. She said to me, "The cat will be fine, I promise." I could tell from the way she was glaring at him that it was my father's turn. So he said, "The cat will be fine, Julie. Your mother and I promise."
I knew he didn't believe it. But Timmy was my first and my one and only pet, so I also knew they couldn't let him die.
My father and mother and even my sister Halley took turns feeding Timmy with an eyedropper. He hardly moved. All day he just lay in one spot on the rug where the sun came in the window in the morning. My mother was nervous about a sick cat pooping in the wrong place, so wherever Timmy was lying she'd go get the litter box and put it next to him and point to it and smile. "See, Timmy? Good Timmy."
I didn't mind where he pooped, I just wanted him to get better.
It took two weeks and three visits to the vet. My father had to shove pills down his throat. Timmy spit them up. My father shoved the pill down again, and he'd hold Timmy's mouth shut tight like the vet told him. He'd stroke Timmy's throat like the vet told him. My mother and Halley and I stood around and said, "Good Timmy." It didn't matter. Timmy spit up all the pills. It was as if he didn't care if he got better or not. Only we did.
My mother and Halley, even if they didn't like animals so much, kept saying in this fake way, "I think he looks better, don't you think so?"
And when they didn't say it, I did. We hoped that saying the lie would make it come true.
And one morning I woke up and I found Timmy, looking twice as big as yesterday, scratching to pieces one of the legs of the couch which my mother got when we moved in, before I was alive. Another couch leg was already in shreds.
My mother started crying. "I'll kill that cat!" she said. But the rest of us were happy, with me the happiest.
Chapter ThreeMaybe because he was so sick when we got him, Timmy was a scaredy-cat. He didn't let me pet him. He'd see me coming and sneak off in the other direction, which wasn't at all the way he was when he was sick. Then he always let me pick him up. I'd lay him down in my lap and he wouldn't mind staying all day, and all night too if I didn't have to get up to eat or go to the bathroom.
But now that he was all better I had to go hunt him down. It was so unfair. I'd walk into my bedroom and see his tail vanish under my bed, like he couldn't get away fast enough. So I'd crawl under the bed after him saying, "Come here, Timmy" in a very friendly and kind voice, so he'd know that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt him.
But the way he backed off from me, making himself small and flat in the shadows against the wall under my bed, it was as if I was a criminal who went around killing cats. That's how this cat who was my pet treated me. Even though I nursed him when he was sick. He could have been dead, but did he even think of that?
"Come here, Timmy," I'd say in every pleasant way that I knew how. And it didn't matter to him. He looked at me like he wanted to scream, "Here comes the cat murderer!" His eyes bugged out, his whole body curled up like this: . And if he didn't run away, he made as if he was going to claw me. I reached out to him anyway to pet him. He cringed almost like my hand was a shotgun.
He wasn't always bad to me. Sometimes if I was doing something, looking at a book or I don't know what, playing with my Barbies, and my mind was a million miles away, I would look up and there he was-sitting so close I was surprised, staring right at me. And if I didn't move or do a thing, he went on staring as if we were almost friends. But if I said, "Hello, Timmy, how are you, I love you," his eyes looked at me like he was thinking, "Call the police!" And if I got up to pet him, he'd be out of there so fast I could tell he was thinking, "She's going to kill me! Dial 911!"
"I don't want this cat," I said to my mother.
"You asked for a cat, now you've got one and you don't want it," she said, as if Timmy was my fault.
"I didn't ask you to get me a cat who hates me. I hate him too."
"No, you don't," said my father, who thinks he knows what I think better than I do. "Timmy has to get used to you. You have to learn to be patient."
"Why should I learn to be patient for a cat who hates me? He should like me, because otherwise why have a pet? Nobody gets a pet because you hope someday he'll get used to you and like you. I want a nice pet. Or a dog."
So because they felt bad for me, and they weren't getting me a dog, my father took me to the pet store three blocks away to look for a make-up pet. We got a hamster.
Chapter FourWho knew a hamster would be such a complicated animal to buy? Before my father let me get mine, he made me wait while he looked over the entire pet store for anything that had to do with hamsters. Different cages and tanks and water bottles and what to feed them and wheels and soft stuff for a bed like wood chips but not sawdust because it's not good for a hamster's breathing, the pet store man told us. My father didn't ask him why, so he didn't say. I wanted to ask him, but out of the house I'm very shy.
That must have been the only question my father didn't ask, but it could have been worse. It could have been my mother. When my father asks a question, he waits for an answer and then he's satisfied. Sometimes, though, he has to ask the question again because he forgets the answer the minute he hears it, not all the time but sometimes. But my mother asks questions more like it's a conversation with her best friend, with the actual question maybe five minutes later at the end. Then she has a whole other conversation about the answer. So it could be nighttime before we're out of the store.
I was getting impatient. I tugged at my father's coat to remind him that it was time to make our pick and go home. I could have been playing with my hamster for an hour by now except for my father's questions. I nudged him, and poked him, but I couldn't get him to move.
He said, "We have to prepare for the hamster's arrival the way we prepared for yours. Do you think when you were a baby we brought you home to an apartment without a crib?"
"My hamster's going to sleep in a crib?"
"Don't be a wiseguy," my father said.
Because we made such a bad mistake getting Timmy with a cold, I made sure when I looked over the hamsters that the one I picked wasn't sneezing or sniffling or the slightest bit coldy. Also I made sure not to get a hamster lying way back in the cage full of hamsters like he was afraid of me. Timmy taught me a good lesson about pets not to get. You look for the opposite of pets like Timmy-a perky and friendly hamster who comes to you and cuddles with you and lets you hold him in your hand, and doesn't look like he wants to call the police.
The hamster I got was very furry, small, and a light brown, kind of tan almost. He wasn't shy with me at all, which is one reason I wanted him, but the other reason was he had this look, as if all he wanted most in the world was for some kid to love him.
I was that kid. I was lucky. I named him Hammy.
"That's a terrible name," Halley said when I brought him home. But then she started calling him by his name right away. "Hello, Hammy." "Are you happy to be in our home?" "You're going to be very happy here, Hammy."
Chapter Five"Why are you putting his cage up so high?" I asked my father, who was clearing my picture books off a shelf in the bookcase by the radiator in my room. It was the second shelf from the top, where I would have to stand on a chair to play with Hammy.
"I don't want him scared by the cat."
"Timmy will be the one who's scared," I said.
"Julie, Hammy is a rodent. He's like a mouse."
I thought he was saying that to scare me. Sometimes he says things to scare me. Anyhow, how could he be sure?
"Maybe they could be friends?"
"Are you out of your mind?" Halley said. But she always says that to me, so I didn't pay attention.
"I see cats and dogs who are friends, so why can't a cat make friends with a hamster? What if I put my hamster and my cat together and they learned to be friends, wouldn't that be a good thing to try? Especially if I'm going to be a vet?"
At last Hammy was up on his bookshelf in his very own cage, hiding out in his little plastic house with a peephole that he was too scared to peep out of. But that didn't last long-I think he was waiting for us to be alone. Because as soon as my mother and father and Halley had come and gone, which only took maybe three or four minutes, he peeked out at me from his cubbyhole. I was standing on a chair, waiting for him with a piece of lettuce. "Hello, Hammy," I said. He peeked out a little bit more, and then some more, and I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was trying to make up his mind, in or out. So I said maybe ten times, "Nice Hammy, have some lettuce, Hammy." I said it especially quiet, not to shock him because he was so small. And I thought my voice ought to be extra high like I was a really little kid until he got used to me.
So soon, very soon, he was completely out of his hole, his furry body shivering like he had a hundred little muscles pounding away inside it. But not because he was afraid, just that he was nervous in his new home. I could tell by the way he came up to me, when I was poking the lettuce at him through the wires of the cage. He did it without a one-step-back-and-forth thing, as if he liked me. He came at me an inch at a time. I think he wanted to get to know me better. For a second or two he didn't even bother with the lettuce in my hand. Then he started nibbling. I was excited.
And who should show up to join our party? Timmy. I looked around the room for no reason, and there he was, practically six inches away, staring up at Hammy in his cage. I said, "Timmy, meet your new friend Hammy. You're going to live together so you can't eat him, okay?" I didn't expect Timmy to understand. I knew if I took Hammy out, then and there, Timmy would try to eat him. I'm not stupid.
But I was sure that with the experiment I was going to begin-this Great Experiment of mine-that after Timmy got used to Hammy, after I trained him, he would see how adorable and playful and like a little kitten he was, like a little Timmy himself, if he hadn't been so sick when we first got him.
I told my sister about my Great Experiment. "You are out of your mind" was what she said to me, but since that's what she always says, I didn't even listen. She sounded exactly the same as my mother and father warning me that Hammy was a mouse as far as Timmy goes. Except that also didn't bother me, because grown-ups know lots of old stuff they call "experience," and they think that makes them right all the time. But they can be wrong. Like my mother and father are always apologizing. "I'm sorry," he says. "No, I'm sorry," she says. So if they keep saying they're sorry, it proves they know they can be wrong. So why can't they be wrong about my Great Experiment, making Timmy and Hammy best friends?
Chapter SixMy best friend-actually one of my three best friends-came for an after-school play date to see my cat and hamster. Natasha's adopted like me, but not like I am, from Mount Juliet, Tennessee. She's from Russia. She was a year old when her parents went over to get her, so she doesn't have an accent. And the next year they got divorced, Natasha thinks it was over her. Her mother says no, but I think she's right because her father didn't get divorced over her two older brothers, but a year after they got her he moved out. She stays with him every other weekend, though it's more the babysitter she hangs out with.
Natasha's the smartest kid in our grade and she shows off, kind of. I only mind it a little because I learn from her, even more than from my parents. She knows stuff that grown-ups don't think of that kids want to learn.
Natasha's mother won't let her have pets because she had a guinea pig once and it died after a week. Natasha's mother said she had enough problems with no husband and three children without taking on the extra problem of a pet who you didn't know from day to day if it was going to live or die. So Natasha likes to have play dates with friends whose parents let them have pets. Then she goes home and tells her mother about it, and that way someday she maybe can persuade her mother to buy her a parakeet, which is what she wants.
Natasha wants a parakeet as much as I want a dog. She's an expert on parakeets. She said they live seven or eight years, but some live as old as twenty. A healthy parakeet has smooth, kind of shiny feathers and the way you can tell if he's sick is if his feathers are puffed up. And the way you can tell if he's healthy is if he's playing and fussing with his feathers.
My father and mother don't know any of this stuff.
Boy parakeets have blue or bluish skin up by their nostrils, but a girl's skin is more brownish, at least that's what Natasha said. Parakeets like to trim their beaks by chewing on their perches, so you have to make sure they have wood and not plastic perches. Natasha said she was going to make her own perch when her mother lets her get a parakeet. She was going to carve it herself from an apple tree that isn't sprayed with chemicals. But she didn't tell me how she'd know whether it's sprayed or not. I wouldn't know. I'm not sure I'd recognize an apple tree if apples weren't falling off it.
Excerpted from A ROOM with a ZOO by JULES FEIFFER Copyright © 2005 by Jules Feiffer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jules Feiffer is a Pulitzer-Prize winning syndicated comic-strip cartoonist and author. He has written and illustrated more than ten books, including I'm Not Bobby, By the Side of the Road, and The Daddy Mountain. Jules lives in New York City with his family.
- New York, New York
- Date of Birth:
- January 26, 1929
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- The Pratt Institute, 1951
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