If I Ran the Zoo


Published 1950 by Random House Inc.


The story opens with Gerald McGrew at the local Zoo looking at a zookeeper standing in front of the lions cage. He quickly starts to image what the zoo would be like if he were in charge. It would be the New Zoo, McGrew Zoo and it would have the most fantastical creatures, like the Fizza-ma-Wizza-ma-Dill in the image below.


As you can see there is a also a vehicle of sorts pulling the Fizza-ma-Wizza-ma-Didd. Gerald McGrew images all sorts of machines that will help him gather these exotic animals, such as the Skeegle-mobile which will help him gather creatures from the North Pole.

Gerald McGrew’s imagination grows and grows until eventually we see the McGrew Zoo in it’s full grandeur with a sign in lights and balloons and zoo goers lining up at the gates. Then we go back to the same page as the first page, with Gerald McGrew simply looking on at the zoo keeper and the page reads:

That’s what I’d do,”
Said young Gerald McGrew.
“I’d make a few changes
If I ran the zoo.”


This is the first book that we really see all of the qualities of a true Seussian children’s book. It is a bestiary book created by a child’s imagination full of creatures and odd machines with Seussian names and characteristics. 

One of the major differences between this early Seussian style and later books is the bit of racism that is fairly strong such as “slanty eyes” on the helpers from Zomba-ma-Tant…


…or big poofy hats on creatures and men from Russian with names like Palooski which Seuss rhymes with words like blueski and redski.


There is also a pretty offensive image of two African men helping to carry a Tufted Mazurka from the African island of Yerka. They have massive nose rings and tufts of a hair to match the bird.

There is also an Arab-looking chieftain riding a camel-like “scraggle-foot Mulligatawny” from the Desert of Zind. Not only does Gerald want to put the Mulligatawny in his zoo, but decides the chieftain would look good there too, implying that the chieftain is basically just an exotic animal, which is obviously offensive.

I believe the reason for this racism is to create exotic and exciting animals. Seuss pulled from stereotypes of other countries and portrayed qualities of those stereotypes so that children would recognize them as something different from animals they see in normal zoos. It doesn’t excuse the racism, but explains it’s purpose in these earlier books.

Seuss makes a point of being less racist in later books, relying more on completely creative and original animals rather than stereotypes from other cultures. Such as the page full of random beasts that he completely made up:



The dedication is to more of his godchildren and reads:


The inspiration came from his parents. His father was involved in the Springfield zoo and his mother had been working on writing a zoo story when he returned from Oxford. He stated that he wrote the book in her memory.

The book was published in the 3 primary colors. Red is on every page with yellow and blue alternating between facing pages.

Many people have heard that Seuss created the word “Nerd”. The first recorded use of the word nerd is in fact from If I Ran The Zoo so Dr. Seuss is recognized as the creator of the word. It caught on a slang word when it was used in 1951 Newsweek article and quickly spread as a common word meaning someone that is bookish and socially inept.


Early publications of the book had a cover with only white print for the title and character on the cover (this is without the dust jacket.)


“I’ll bag a big bug
Who is very surprising
A feller who has
A propeller for rising
And zooming around
Making cross-country hops,
From Texas to Boston
With only two stops.
Now that sort of thing
For a bug is just tops!”
I love the rhythm and break up of the lines. I can image a child saying it all excited and the 50’s slang is so fun; “bag” and “tops”. Also, the alliteration of the first line makes me want to jump in to the rest of it, “I’ll bag a big bug.”
Most of the creatures in this book appear at a distance with the landscape included, but this one is up close and takes up the entire page. It’s exciting to flip through the book and then have this guy pop up and surprise you.
Thanks for reading,
 Jack St.Rebor

One comment on “If I Ran the Zoo

  1. Mary Martens says:

    Why does my 1950 copy of If I Ran the Zoo have an elephant on the red cover?

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