Monday, March 30, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied

The main character in this story has a problem that I could relate to – anxiety about public-speaking—and she also lives in a zoo! That's definitely a fun and intriguing situation. I'm delighted to have discovered this book on the shelf in my local library.

Here’s the Amazon description:

Ana Wright's social life is now officially on the endangered list: she lives in a zoo (umm, elephant droppings!?), her best friend lives on the other side of the world, and the Sneerers are making junior high miserable. All Ana wants is to fade into the background.

Yeah, that's not going to happen.

Creature File for Ana Wright:

Species Name: Anaphyta Normalis

Kingdom: The Zoo, Junior High

Phylum: Girls Whose Best Friend Just Moved To New Zealand; Girls Who Are Forced To Live In A Zoo With Their Weirdo Parents And Twin Brother

Weight: Classified

Feeds On: Daydreams about Zackardia Perfecticus and wish cupcakes

Life Span: Soon to become extinct due to social awkwardness

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating, Sourcebooks Jaberwocky, Naperville, Illinois, 2014.

My Take:

This book manages to be funny and touching at the same time. I enjoyed the animal facts and unique perspective from Ana, whose parents have moved their family to live in a research station inside the zoo. Although some of the characters seem familiar, like the crowd of “mean girls” that bully Ana or the sweet-but-annoying twin brother, Dax, I wanted to read on to see whether Ana solves her problem. Middle grade students will relate to feelings of awkwardness and anxiety and her friendship issues.  

Writers, this is a great example of a middle grade novel with a really strong main character voice.

Opening Line:

“Don’t. Freak. Out. It was the day before my twelfth half-birthday, and I was spending it holding the business end of a crocodile.”


“It felt so good to escape from the rest of the world and surround myself with quiet, safe books. Books didn’t expect anything of you, and they didn’t even care that you weren’t super confident like the rest of your crazy family.”

“If you add up a bunch of negatives, you’re going to get something even more negative. This is like starting off with getting bird poop on your shoulder, and then stepping in a puddle of muck while wearing your favorite shoes. “

“But you know what I’ve learned about bravery? It’s something you choose. And the more you choose it, the more it grows.”

Other Info:

Jess Keating is a writer with a degree in zoology

Her next book in the series is called How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel and came out in January. I’m going to be looking for it!

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied has been nominated for the Red Maple Award.

Some thoughts for writers from Jess Keating’s website: “…there is no wasted writing. If it doesn’t get finished, it’s not wasted. If it doesn’t get published, it’s not wasted. Every single word, every single idea, every single chunk of random premise will make you a better writer. Because words, ideas, and premises are our life blood.”

For more, visit Jess Keating’s website.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.


  1. I could relate to the fear too. I definitely don't like public speaking. And love the zoo setting.

    1. The zoo setting was fun! A lot of readers will connect to this, I think.

  2. What a great title! Speaking in public is a fear I had when younger. The more you force yourself to do it the better you get. The story line for this one has me intrigued. Thanks for sharing. I'm adding it to my TBR list.

    1. So true! I'm much better at it than I used to be. Though inside I'm probably just as terrified.

  3. This sounds like a good one. I love the title. Thanks for the review. I keep an eye open for it.

    1. It's a fun read. The main character has a strong voice!

  4. I love books that are funny and touching at the same time. I remember reading about this book last year, but still haven't managed to get my hands on a copy.

    Speaking in public is still my number one fear, but as Greg said, you do get better at it when you force yourself.

    1. I definitely have gotten better at it. It's easier when you are confident about what you are talking about!

  5. I am always looking for short, fun reads and this one looks perfect.

  6. I really like the title--and the title for the upcoming book as well. The unique premise and setting is intriguing, and I'm always drawn by books with great voice. Thanks for sharing--I'll be looking for this one.


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