“Tanglewood Animal Park next right!”
Zoe Fox pointed out of the car windscreen to a gap in the trees ahead, her voice quivering with anticipation. Her four-year-old brother, Rory, bounced around on the seat beside her and she knew he was just as excited as she was. Even Mum looked up eagerly and she’d been to Tanglewood plenty of times already. But it wasn’t every day you moved into your very own zoo, Zoe thought, as Dad stopped the car in front of the entrance. Two tall iron gates blocked the way, flanked on each side by a sandstone pillar. On top of the pillars, Zoe saw two carved lions facing each other, caught mid-roar, and beyond them, a deserted road winding through the woods into the distance.
“Wow,” Zoe breathed, a thrill of delight chasing up and down her spine.
As entrances went it was pretty grand and a million miles away from the neatly painted red front door of their old terraced house in London.
Mr Fox held up a remote control and pressed a button. A groaning, whirring noise filled the air and the gates slowly parted.
“Wait until you see Tanglewood Manor itself,” he said. “It’s going to knock your leopard-print socks off.”
Zoe hugged herself tight with glee – she couldn’t wait to see it. But most of all, she was looking forward to meeting her new neighbours: the animals. She knew there were definitely ring-tailed lemurs, plus lions and zebras. The lemurs were her favourites, though; she couldn’t wait to get to know them. Before buying Tanglewood, her dad had been Head Keeper at London Zoo and her mum had worked there too, so Zoe was used to being around all kinds of animals. But she’d never lived right in the middle of an actual zoo before. Their very own zoo!
As they passed through the open gates, Zoe buzzed her window down and breathed in the hot August air. Now that she was closer, she could see the metalwork was dotted with orange rust. She was surprised and a little bit shocked: that would never have been allowed at London Zoo, she thought, picturing the immaculate ironwork of Regent’s Park. Her parents had already warned her that there was a lot to be done at Tanglewood – the previous owners had been a big company who’d run things on a shoestring before eventually closing the park down and selling it to the Fox family. They planned a grand reopening in two weeks’ time. If everything was ready…
More trees lined the road after the gates, curving in an emerald arch over their heads. Zoe craned her neck to see around the bend, eager for her first glimpse of the manor. And then the car rounded another bend and an enormous red-bricked building appeared before them.
“Oh!” Zoe gasped in astonishment. “It’s huge!”
“Tall,” Rory agreed.
Their mother glanced backwards, her eyes gleaming. “Do you like it?”
Zoe nodded vigorously, her gaze fixed on the manor. It was much older than she’d been expecting – it had vaulted windows and turrets and what looked suspiciously like a gargoyle peering down from the edge of the grey slate roof tiles. Wooden beams blackened with age cut into the red bricks in symmetrical patterns. Zoe felt as though she’d slipped hundreds of years into the past.
The car crunched to a halt on the gravel outside the oak front door. Zoe clambered out, ignoring Rory’s indignant squawks at being stuck in his car seat. She walked forwards, gazing around her in wonder.
“Don’t worry about the missing tiles on the roof,” Dad said. “The builders are going to fix them tomorrow.”
Zoe peered upwards. Now that she looked more closely, she could see one or two black areas among the grey tiles. And the roof wasn’t the only thing in need of attention – a few windowpanes had cracks in them. The manor house might be bigger than their old home but it was nowhere near as neat and tidy, Zoe thought, with an unexpected pang of homesickness.
The front door opened with a creak and a man wearing shorts and muddy green wellington boots walked out. Slouching behind him was a boy of around eleven with dark-blond hair and freckles, wearing a T-shirt with a snarling tiger on the front. And following him was a small group of men and women of all ages, some in green polo shirts, a few in paint-spattered overalls and one lady wearing a black-and-white checked apron. They gathered around Zoe and her family and began to clap.
Zoe gazed at the smiling faces. This couldn’t be everyone who worked at the park – when it was full, her parents had said Tanglewood would be home to more than 350 different animals. Surely they’d need a lot more people to look after them all?
“Hello again,” the man said, striding towards them as the applause died down. “Officially – welcome to Tanglewood.”
Dad shook his hand. “Thanks, Max. I’d like to introduce my daughter, Zoe, and her little brother, Rory. Zoe, this is Max Chambers, Tanglewood’s Chief Vet. He oversees the care of all our animals and runs the Tanglewood medical centre.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Max replied, his face crinkling into a smile as he solemnly shook their hands. “This is my son, Oliver.”
Zoe looked at the boy expectantly. Her parents had told her Max had a son who lived at Tanglewood too. But instead of smiling like his father, Oliver gave her a dead-eyed stare.
“Cool T-shirt,” Zoe said, stepping forwards. She held up her tiger-print rucksack. “It matches my bag.”
Oliver thrust both hands into the pockets of his jeans, looking bored. “Whatever.”
“Oliver,” Max warned. “Be polite.”
The boy grunted. “I’ve got to go and muck out the zebras.”
Without another word, he turned his back on them all and crunched across the gravel. Max sighed as he disappeared around the corner of the house. “Sorry. He’s not normally so rude.”
“I understand,” Zoe’s dad said. “It’s a big adjustment. He’ll come round.”
Zoe stared after Oliver. They were both starting a new school in September, in the same year, and Zoe had been hoping he would be a friendly face while she found her feet. But from the way he’d acted, she wasn’t sure he even knew what the word friendly meant. She sighed as another pang of homesickness squeezed at her stomach. London’s crowded streets, scarlet buses and familiar sights seemed very far away now. Her friends felt far away too. Even though she could message them whenever she wanted, the distance between London and Tanglewood made visits unlikely, at least for a while.
Zoe looked around at the rest of the staff – they seemed friendly and smiled when they caught her eye. And then she heard the distant but unmistakable sound of a lion’s roar and her homesickness melted away, replaced by a flurry of excitement. That wasn’t any old lion, it was her brand-new next-door neighbour. In fact, Tanglewood was full of animals just like him, waiting for Zoe to get to know them. She couldn’t wait!
Zoe loves living at Tanglewood Animal Park!
Every day Zoe takes care of the animals. She splashes with penguins, feeds the lemurs - she even sees baby zebra, Flash, being born. It's a dream come true.
Then Flash goes missing. Now Zoe has to find him, and soon! Where can that baby zebra be?
“Perfect for animal lovers!”
Paradise Wildlife Park
“This gorgeous new adventure series is guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of animal lovers of every age.”
Lancashire Evening Post
“What’s wonderful is the amount of animal knowledge (such as feeding, habitats, endangered species etc) deposited throughout the book, either as part of the story or as dialogue between the characters, so that for the young reader they can absorb the animal information at the same time as reading a cracking story”
“Readers will love imagining themselves in Zoe’s shoes and the book is full of tips too on animals and animal care. This is the first in a series and the next one can’t come soon enough.”
For links to specially selected websites with video clips and activities or a pronunciation guide for this book, visit the Usborne Quicklinks website.