Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper

Candace Fleming, illus. by Julie Downing. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4318-5
There’s a fairy tale quality to Fleming’s story of Helen Martini, a woman whose longing for a baby was filled by raising a series of orphaned big cat cubs, which unexpectedly led to her becoming the first female zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo. And like many fairy tales, the just-so telling and happily- ever-after ending skim over deeper troubles and complications, specifically the way Martini relates to the animals in her care. Martini’s husband was a keeper at the Bronx Zoo. When a lioness rejected her cub, he brought it home for Martini to raise before it was sent to another zoo. After she cares for a trio of tiger cubs, Helen follows them back to the Bronx Zoo, transforming a store room into the zoo’s first “nursery”: “Her babies needed her.” Martini’s “mother and child” relationship with these wild animals is both charming and unsettling; an artifact of an earlier era in wildlife stewardship that complicates conservation efforts to this day. Downing’s sensitive illustrations shine in a rich, muted palette, using sweeping lines and patterned details to conjure cozy, 1940s-era domestic scenes where lions snooze on laps and tigers frolic in bubble baths. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/13/2020
Release date: 05/19/2020
Genre: Children's
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