Short Fiction for Children: A Zoo in My Backyard

Note:  I wrote the original version of this story in 1999, and I wrote it as a simple, easy to read story like what you might find in Highlights magazine.  Since then I totally rewrote it to add more detail and to change the children from cardboard stereotypes to kids I actually know.  Not sure I like the way the story ends kind of abruptly, but this is where it stands now.

A Zoo in My Backyard

A light spring rain fell on the little group of children and their parents waiting at the corner for the morning school bus. The grown-ups stood around talking among themselves while keeping an eye on the children, while the children had their own games and conversations.  At this particular bus stop, the children had gotten into a habit of boasting to each other about their lives.  Sometimes it was schoolwork, or their sports activities, or their after school clubs.

This week the topic among the children was pets.

“My dog Patches can catch a ball in the air!” boasted Kathryn, a fifth-grader. “I think he’s probably the best jumper in the city!”

“Yeah?  Well my cat just had kittens!” Third-grade Ben said and grinned.  Everybody loved kittens. “They are pure Persian and Dad says they’ll be worth a lot of money.  You all can come see them when their eyes are open.”

“We have a new pet, too!” Michael, a fourth-grader, said loudly. “A goldfish with a fancy tail”

“It was the only fish like it at the pet store!” chimed in Maggie, Michael’s twin sister.

“Well I have, I have….” Little Evan Elliot, a first-grader, was the youngest child at the bus stop.  He often repeated words at the beginning of his sentences because it was so hard to get the older kids to listen to him. “I have, I have a lion in my backyard!  He is ferocious!”  He ran around the group snapping at them with his teeth to illustrate his lion.

The other kids rolled their eyes and thought, “Silly Evan Elliot!” but just went on talking about their own pets until the bus arrived.

The next morning the rain had stopped, and the wind blew ragged clouds past the rising sun.  As the group assembled, Ben could hardly wait to share his news.

“Next month I get to visit my cousin in Ashville!  She lives on a farm and I’ll get to ride a real horse!”

Not to be outdone, Kathryn crowed, “Next week we get to pet-sit my Grandma’s friend’s parakeet for five days! And this parakeet really talks! Maybe I can teach it a song.”

“We’re keeping the classroom gerbils over spring break!” Maggie and Michael yelled at the same time. They had to say it twice because it’s hard to understand two people talking at once.

“Yeah, but…Yeah, but…Yesterday I saw a tiger in my backyard!” Evan Elliot roared and ran in a zigzag pattern around the other children.  “Only it didn’t really roar.” He added.

“Of course not,” said Kathryn with another eye roll.

Maggie whispered to Ben, “Evan Elliot doesn’t have any pets, so he has to pretend.  Just pretend you believe him.”

“I’ve never heard of tigers running in zigzag patterns,” Michael said out loud.

“Oh, but they do!” Evan Elliot said, and ran in a zigzag pattern toward the bus that had just arrived.

The next morning was Friday, and Maggie brought a small cage to the bus stop with a shell inside. “It’s a hermit crab,” she explained. “I’m bringing—“

“—We’re  bringing it for show and tell!” Michael finished for her.

“Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to the dog show,” Kathryn said. “My Dad is sure Patches will win a prize!”

“Well, uh,” Ben jumped in quickly. “My kittens almost have their eyes open!”

“Well I have, I have—.”  Evan Elliot held a dramatic pause before finishing, “I have dragons in my backyard! They fly around like this and eat things!” Evan Elliot held his arms out and zoomed around the group.

Kathryn, who really wanted to tell everyone more about the upcoming dog show, finally got upset. “Evan Elliot, stop being silly!” she yelled.  “You do NOT have dragons in your backyard!  Dragons aren’t even real!  And I don’t believe you have a lion or a tiger either!”

“Well I do!” Evan Elliot got a stubborn look on his face. “I do have a lion and a tiger and dragons in my backyard and they are real and ferocious and eat things!”

“Then show us!” Ben demanded.

“I will!  As soon as we get home from school, come to my house and I’ll show you!”

“Okay, then, we will!” Michael retorted.  Then all four older kids asked their parents—who were laughing at some real estate joke and had not been listening–if they could stop at Evan Elliot’s house when they got off the bus at the end of the day.

As they boarded the school bus, Maggie whispered to Ben, “Poor kid. Wonder what he’ll do when we get to his house this afternoon.”

At the end of the day Evan Elliot seemed surprisingly confident as he led his friends through the gate into his backyard.  Kathryn exchanged a smug smile with Michael when they saw that it looked like everyone else’s backyard:  a small square of green grass with flowers bordering the chain link fence.

“So where’s this zoo I’ve been hearing about?” she demanded.

Evan Elliot gestured to the others to follow him to a sandy place under the eaves of the house and he pointed to a row of cone shaped depressions in the sand.  They looked like tiny Sno-cone holders.  He squatted beside them and dropped a few grains of sand into the middle of one of them.  Nothing happened.  He tried again at the next hole.  Something spit the sand back out!

“What was that?” asked Ben.

“My lion!” Evan Elliot said defiantly.  “An ant lion!” He plunged his hand into the sand and, after three tries, brought up a small gray bug.  “This is my lion and it is ferocious. At least it is to ants!”

“That’s a doodlebug!” Kathryn said dismissively.

“But they really are called ant lions,” Michael said.  “I remember seeing something about them on TV.”

“Don’t tell me you have ant tigers, too!” Kathryn huffed.

“No, and I’m not sure if the tiger is here.” Evan Elliot led them to the row of petunias by the fence.

“There!” He pointed at a black and yellow butterfly zigzagging from flower to flower. “That’s a tiger swallowtail!  And there’s another!  They really like petunias.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes but Maggie cheered. “Evan Elliot!  You really do have a lion and a tiger!  That’s great!”

Ben asked, “But are you going to show us a comic book to see the dragon? Fake dragons don’t really fly and eat things.”

“No, over here!” Evan Elliot ran to the fence on the other side of the yard.  A small stream ran behind the house and a thick dam of weeds had created a stagnant puddle on the other side of the fence.

Winged insects with shimmering green and blue bodies zoomed low above the water.  They looked like flying jewels and their glassy wings sparkled in the afternoon sun.

Ben hit his forehead with his hand. “Dragonflies!  I should have guessed!”

“My dragons!” Evan Elliot said with an impish smile.  “In the evenings my dad says they fly around eating the mosquitoes.  They snatch them right out of the air!”

Kathryn laughed.  “Ok, Evan Elliot, you win!  I believe you!  It may be an insect zoo, but…”

Maggie finished the thought, “but you really do have a zoo in your backyard!”









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