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

Holiday House/Neal Porter Bks. Aug. 2020. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823443185.
PreS-Gr 3–Bronx residents Helen and Fred Martini’s wish for children came true in a unique manner: Fred, employed at the Bronx Zoo, brought home a newborn lion. Abandoned by its mother, the infant required tender nurturing. Helen’s expert maternal skills allowed the cub to blossom. When he was two months old, the cub was sent to another zoo. In time, Fred brought home three tiger cubs. These babies also thrived. At three months of age, the cubs returned to the Bronx Zoo, but Helen accompanied them, eventually establishing an animal nursery. She secured the job of “keeper of the nursery,” the first zookeeper position a woman ever held there. The charming saga of Helen’s journey from a homemaker to a pioneering zookeeper is narrated in well-written, accessible prose. Gentle humor is on display in descriptions of the cubs’ playful antics. Animal lovers will appreciate the message that animal care requires compassion, concern, and respect. Downing’s clean, cheerful illustrations, mostly arranged in panels, delightfully depict the cuddly appeal of Helen’s charges and portray endearing human-animal bonds. An interesting author’s note provides additional information about Helen’s zoo work and her methods of caring for her animal “children” at home. Students may discuss, write about, or illustrate how they care for their pets. Alternatively, educators could have students discuss zoos’ roles in the care and protection of animals.
VERDICT Charming and adorable; recommended for school and public collections.

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