Katherine here, back in the States, though I can’t disclose which particular one, of course. I can, however, tell you where I was earlier this week.

When you’re a spy, your job has to come first. This is great if you love traveling the world and wearing lots of black clothing, but not so great if you like downtime in the summer. When you’re thwarting power-hungry warlords, you don’t have a lot of time for summer reading goals. And even when you do manage to read a book, you don’t always have the luxury of really soaking in the content.

Luckily, we spies also have some pretty fantastic allies. So when Ahna and the rest of the Eerdmans Task Force heard how much I love our upcoming book Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo, they decided to make this book come to life for me.

Ahna contacted the John Ball Zoo and procured two guest passes for us (I wanted to steal them — you can never have too much practice — but Ahna said it was unnecessary since they were so obliging). Then we donned our softball uniforms and blended into the crowds of zoo visitors.

Along with the footage Ahna got, I did some extra recon work myself; I wanted to find even more evidence of the innovations Abraham Dee Bartlett made to the London Zoo during his time as superintendent. Obviously, this necessitated taking pictures of adorable animals.

A quick disclaimer: I do apologize if any of the pictures are of suboptimal quality. I’m used to using top-of-the-line, military-grade photography equipment, but since I was undercover as a tourist, I had to rely on the camera in my burner cell. Which just wasn’t the same.

Ahna and I ran into some zookeepers right in front of the mountain lion habitat. During our gentle interrogation, they told us that both of the lions there were four years old and weighed 90-140 lbs. The male mountain lion was sound asleep, while the female lion was out climbing and exploring. I liked her instantly.

Mountain Lion
Elsa the mountain lion don’t need no man . . . but she has one anyway.

We got to the aquarium just in time to see the penguin feeding. I was particularly intrigued because the London Zoo where Abraham Bartlett worked featured the world’s first large public aquarium.


The people at the John Ball Zoo are very careful about the foods they select, in order to provide their animals the most nutritious diet available.

Though it appears some animals would rather sleep through lunch.

This was something Bartlett specialized in as well. He crafted specialized diets for all of the zoo’s animals, resulting in what at the time was the world’s largest grocery list. (A reproduction of the grocery list is featured in the end pages of Fur, Fins, and Feathers.)

End page from Fur, Fins, and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to experience one of my favorite summer reads in real life. A special thank-you to the Eerdmans Task Force and the John Ball Zoo for giving a spy a welcome break from international espionage. But now the break is over, and I have some R&D labs to infiltrate.

Until next time.

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About Coffee Break Confidential:

This monthly column is where EBYR editorial assistant/vlogger/superspy Katherine Gibson divulges extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. She’s researching topics related to children’s literature, posting her findings — and taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or are we?)