Candace Fleming
Historical Picture Books
Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo's First Woman Zookeeper
Neal Porter Books,
August 2020
978-0823443185
ages 4 to 8
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Cubs in the Tub:
The True Story of the Bronx Zoo's First Woman Zookeeper
written by Candace Fleming
illustrated by Julie Downing

Fred and Helen Martini longed for a baby, and they ended up with dozens of lion and tiger cubs! Snuggle up to this purr-fect read aloud about the Bronx Zoo's first female zoo-keeper. When Bronx Zoo-keeper Fred brought home a lion cub, Helen Martini instantly embraced it. The cub's mother lost the instinct to care for him. "Just do for him what you would do with a human baby," Fred suggested … and she did. Helen named him MacArthur, and fed him milk from a bottle and cooed him to sleep in a crib. Soon enough, MacArthur was not the only cub bathed in the tub! The couple continued to raise lion and tiger cubs as their own, until they are old enough to return them to zoos. Helen becomes the first female zookeeper at the Bronx zoo, the keeper of the nursery. This is a terrific non-fiction book to read aloud while snuggling up with your cubs! Filled with adorable baby cats, this is a story about love, dedication, and a new kind of family. Gorgeously patterned illustrations by Julie Downing detail the in-home nursery and a warm pallet creates a cozy pairing with Candace Fleming's lovely language. Backmatter includes a short biography of Helen Martini and a selected bibliography.

Read the Reviews

“While her husband, Fred, spent his days working at the Bronx Zoo in the 1940s, Helen Martini longed for a baby. When Fred comes home with a baby one day—a neglected lion cub—it’s not the kind Helen anticipated, but she immediately takes the cub in her arms, names him MacArthur, and gives him round-the-clock care. And like many proud mamas, Helen documents his “firsts” and overlooks the chewed-up shoes and ripped couch for lap snuggles. All seems well in the storylike narrative and endearing, patterned illustrations that reflect both the colors and culture of the time period and the range of emotions felt by Helen, especially when MacArthur is taken away to another zoo. After nurturing more babies at home, this time tiger cubs, and another difficult goodbye, Helen begins to tend to their needs directly at the zoo. She takes mothering other baby animals into her own hands, secretly creating a nursery in an abandoned building. When zoo officials discover her enterprise, they surprisingly approve, and Helen becomes the first female zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo. A concluding note provides more information about this groundbreaking figure and explains how, like Helen, women of this era sometimes had to find quiet ways to break societal and gender norms. A charming reflection of courage and change.”

“Telling the tale with great attention to detail, Fleming perfectly captures both time and place as well as the loving, determined woman who forged her way in a man’s profession. Downing’s illustrations in a wide variety of sizes and hues will keep readers’ attention glued to the pages and are in sync with the text in every way … A lovely homage to a little-known woman and her quiet achievement.”

“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 … 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.”

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