What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo? Just ask Ana Wright, star of the hilarious, award-nominated My Life is A Zoo series that combines first crushes, friendship fails...and pack dynamics.
Surprise! Ana's long distance BFF is finally coming back to visit. But with her purple hair and new attitude, Liv is barely the girl Ana remembers. This new Liv probably thinks a birthday party at the zoo is lame. Maybe if Ana has a super-secret sleepover instead, she'd never have to introduce Liv to Ashley, former enemy and now Ana's best-ish friend. What could go wrong?
Creature File for Liv:
Species Name: Best Frendicus
Kingdom: New Zealand
Phylum: girl who used to be Ana Wright's best friend, girl who used to like getting milkshakes at Shaken, Not Stirred
Feeds on: video chats with Leilani, attention from boys
Life span: undetermined, but if things keep going the way they are, the lifespan of Ana and Liv, BFFs isn't going to be the "forever" they thought...
Jess Keating combines the quirky humor and animal-centric plots of Carl Hiaasen with the awkward adolescent antics of Lauren Myracle in this fresh new middle grade series!
Praise for How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (My Life is a Zoo Book 1):
2015 Red Maple Award nominee
2015-2016 Georgia Children's Book Award nominee
"Keating delivers a fun-filled, pitch-perfect book...about the perils of being 12 in a snake-eat-snake world."Kirkus STARRED Review
"Life is literally a zoo for shy twelve-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 menagerie of laugh-out-loud antics."Anna Staniszewski, author of The Dirt Diary
"A wild romp, filled with humor and heart."Lisa Schroeder, author of It's Raining Cupcakes
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Red foxes communicate with each other by making "scent posts," by peeing on trees or rocks to announce their presence.
Oh, gross! Imagine if humans communicated with each other like that. Everywhere you went you'd have to pee on everything. I'd much rather announce my presence with an awesome sound track like when celebrities walk onstage during talk shows. In fact, I wish I had a cool sound track that followed me everywhere, so I sounded supercool every time I entered a room. That beats peeing, right?
Know what's crazy?
In exactly nine days, four hours, and nineteen minutes, I am going to change.
And I don't mean like a tiny, silly change, like getting a haircut, or finding a pair of pants that makes your butt look awesome (although I wouldn't turn that down), or even finding out that you aced a math exam for the first time in your life, so you can actually impress your supercute genius boyfriend with your whip-smart intelligence for once.
No. I mean a big change.
This is the last week of my life that I will be a non-teenager. I mean, at least until I turn twenty, but that's a million years away still, so it doesn't count. But next week? I'm the big one three.
Say it with me: thir-teen.
The teen is right there in the word.
Not to brag, but I think I'm handling it pretty well. I haven't had any meltdowns about getting old yet, and I was only mildly wigged out when I caught Mom looking at photo albums of Daz and I as babies with shiny tears in her eyes. I mean, it's not like I'm dying or anything, right?
Just turning thirteen.
Even though I'll never be "preteen" again for the rest of my life.
And I'll never be able to order stuff on the kids' menu at Spaghetti Joe's again, because they are seriously strict about that age cutoff nonsense on the menu, and I love the mini-meatballs they make especially for the kid's plate.
And being thirteen will mean I'm officially too old to get into movies at the supercheap price, which is a real shame considering it costs more than my allowance for even one stupid ticket. That's not even counting the popcorn.
What good is a movie without popcorn?
Maybe I should think about the positive side of thirteen. Like how in all the movies, it's when the kid turns thirteen that they find out they have superpowers or are demigods and all that. Maybe I'm a week away from finding out Dad is actually a Greek god. Being thirteen might not be so bad if I can control lightning bolts, right?
Of course, most almost-thirteen-year-olds don't also have to instruct their friends on how to avoid getting drooled on by a giraffe, but hey, welcome to my life.
"Hold your hand flat," I said, shoving Ashley's arm farther over the chain-link fence. She was gripping the clump of alfalfa hay so tightly, her knuckles were white. Both of my parents work at the zoo, so as long as I ask the keepers, I'm usually allowed to hang out with the animals if my homework is done.
"She's going to bite off my hand, I know it," Ashley said, edging closer to me. "Do they eat meat too?"
The funny thing about being friends with your former nemesis is that every so often, you can get a real kick out of scaring them with totally non-scary things.
Like innocent giraffes.
"Only when they're extra hungry," I said, keeping my voice low and serious. "And you have to watch out for their fangs," I added. "They're retractable, and if they bite you, you could be dead within thirty seconds. It's a special mammal venom."
"What?!" Ashley yelped. She stumbled back, dropping the handful of hay to the ground as she tripped over my toes. "Are you freakin' kidding me?! You've got me sticking my hand out to some monster with fangs, what's wrong with-"
The way Ashley's eyebrows squished together like little angry caterpillars always made me giggle.
The realization that I was messing with her dawned on her face as I picked up the hay and handed it to Paisley, who happily responded by licking my hand clean with her dark-blue tongue. I bit my lip to keep from laughing, but that didn't stop the snort from escaping. Times like this, I wish I could plaster a fake halo above my head to play up the innocent part.
"You're the worst," she huffed, brushing off her knees. She glared at me, but unlike six months ago, it wasn't a real glare, where she wanted me to drop dead. It was more of a playful glare. At least it was playful compared to what I know Ashley's glares are capable of. Back in seventh grade, a patented Ashley glare was enough to make me lose two years of my life span.
Three Things I Didn't Know about My Former Nemesis until I Accidentally-on-Purpose Jumped into a Shark Tank over the Summer to Save Her from Embarrassment
1. Even though Ashley used to seriously hate me (and yeah, I admit, I didn't like her either and almost embarrassed her in front of a massive crowd of people at the zoo), we actually aren't that different. We both agree on the importance of a good lip gloss (although I prefer the ones that aren't all shiny and she loves those ones). And we also both love hammerhead sharks. Lip gloss and hammerhead sharks might seem like a weird combo, but maybe that right there is why we ended up friends after all.
2. Ashley is crazy good at picking out clothes and doing her hair, and it's not because she naturally looks great all the time like some sort of perma-photoshopped model. She actually spends time doing it, the way some people study math or learn how to garden. Don't get the wrong idea though-I'm a total fashion don't myself, which is why it's pretty cool to have someone in my life who knows the difference between boot cut and straight cut. And no, I don't remember it, so don't ask me.
3. A few months ago when school started, I was worried that despite being friends in the summer, she was going to morph back into a Sneerer and throw chicken parm at me like old times. But you know what? She didn't. I have this theory that the minute someone jumps into a shark tank to save you from embarrassment, you're bonded for life. Ashley must agree too, because even though she's had lots of chances to make fun of me in school, instead she just blinks at me and shakes her head when I do something goofbally, like try to do the robot dance in the hallway. Sometimes you need to dance.
"You know, you should be thankful I'm even interested in feeding some smelly giraffe," she huffed. "I don't see anyone else here with you, do you? Like you don't get enough of the weird animals at home now."
"Yeah, yeah," I said, wiping the giraffe drool onto my jeans. She wasn't exactly wrong. Ever since we'd moved out of the zoo when summer ended, it was sort of weird not to wake up to the sound of grumpy lions in the morning. Too bad I couldn't trade my weirdo twin brother, Daz, for them. I handed her a chunk of sweet potato. "Here, try this. She likes it more than the hay."
Ashley held her palm flat like I had showed her, sucking in a breath when Paisley nuzzled her snout along her fingertips to grab it.
"There you go," she cooed to the giraffe. "See, you're much nicer than mean old Ana says. I bet she's just miffed Kevin hasn't kissed her yet, isn't she?" She glanced at me haughtily and cocked an eyebrow.
"For the hundredth time," I said, "I am not upset about not kissing Kevin yet! I told you, I'm done trying to make that happen. And we have a perfectly good time not kissing, thankyouverymuch."
Honestly, despite what you might have heard about almost-thirteen-year-old girls, we aren't obsessed about boys the way all those girlie magazines seem to think we are. I mean, yeah. I think Kevin is awesome, and he still gives me that swirly-vertigo feeling when he stares at me with his dark eyes after his mom drops us off from our group date, but seriously, how much good night kissing can you expect to do with your idiot brother whooping from the bushes telling you to "get a room"? It was bad enough when we lived in the zoo next to the hippos, but it turns out that living back in our old house is just as embarrassing.
"Are you not even a little interested to see what it's like? You've been together for months! I mean, we're pretty much women now," Ashley said, searching for a carrot and carefully holding it out for Paisley.
The way she said "women" made my stomach turn. It's funny. I could see myself as a little kid because I have pictures of what I used to look like. (Yes, the pigtails and goofball glasses were totally embarrassing. Thank the lemurs for contact lenses.)
But when it came to picturing myself as a grown-up? That's a whole other story. I had no pictures to look at; how could I possibly know how I should be as a "woman"? Would I look like Mom? Would I know how to walk in high heels like those ladies on the red carpet in Hollywood? Are we supposed to know how to magically become teenagers too? Am I going to wake up one morning and know that it's the right time to kiss Kevin for the first time? Will I know how to put on dark eyeliner without jabbing myself in the eye so Mom doesn't think I woke up with pinkeye too?
The whole thing was exhausting.
I shook my head, confused by the image of me as a grown-up. "I told you. I've learned my lesson." I put the plastic lid on Paisley's food container and clicked it shut. "The last time I tried to grow up at warp speed and kiss him, I head-butted him."
Ashley's lips squished together. "I know I promised you I would never laugh at that, but..." Her mouth quivered.
"And then"-I lifted my eyebrows, drawing out the moment-"he got a nosebleed." I grinned with pride as Ashley cackled at my expense. It may not be the greatest first almost-kiss story, but now that a few months had passed, I could definitely see the humor.
Especially because Kevin didn't move out of state to get away from me after that whole thing.
"It's nice not having to worry about that stuff," I admitted. "It will happen when it happens, you know?" I said proudly.
Ashley gave me her usual "Are you freaking kidding me?" look, but the truth was, I felt pretty darn mature saying that. It's something Mom says all the time, and it used to annoy the you-know-what out of me. But now, I think I get it. I liked getting to hang out with Kev and hold hands when we go to the movies together (even though Daz always hogs the Sour Patch Kids). So for me, the whole first kiss thing could wait.
Maybe that means I'm ready to be a teenager after all?
As Ashley and I made our way to the back of the giraffe enclosure, my phone buzzed.
I dug into my jacket pocket, enjoying the brief feeling of warmth on my fingertips. It was probably Mom telling me we were having her famous Tuna Surprise for dinner (the surprise is, it sucks), but a different name had popped up on the screen.
Reading the message, I sighed in annoyance.
DAZMANIAN DEVIL: Hey, loser! Have you seen my new scorpion? He's out of his cage again. Get back here and help me look. PS Mom says you're in charge of setting up for dinner, hahaha.
I shook my head, tucking my phone back in my pocket. "Ugh," I said. That pretty much summed it all up when it came to Daz.
"What's up?" Ashley asked. "Is it Kevin? Is he dumping you because you haven't kissed him yet?" She swung her leg over her bike, looking downright pleased at herself for that little joke.
"It's Daz," I said. "This is the third time in a week his scorpion has escaped from his cage. And every time, it winds up in my laundry pile."
She blinked at me, clearly confused.
"I don't even know." I threw up my hands.
Sometimes people think that because we don't live in the zoo anymore, our house wasn't jam-packed with all sorts of animals. But really, we still had a zoo, including two tarantulas, a pet boa constrictor named Oscar, four toads, seven other snakes, and Daz's latest addition, a scorpion named Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Seriously, he makes us call him by his whole name.
Ashley gave me a sympathetic look as I zipped my coat tighter to protect against the cold November air. "Dude. Do you ever just look at your family and think that you're adopted?" She wrapped her scarf around her chin.
I swiped a stray piece of goobery giraffe hay from my mittens. "All the time."