How it was with Dooms, a true story from Africa- by Xan and Carol Hopcraft
This is a book in my Spring reading challenge, one I found through the ending credits of the movie, Duma. Dooms is a nickname for the swahili word Duma which means cheetah. This book tells the story in almost scrapbook style of this family's life with Dooms, the cheetah they raise from a cub. The hopcraft ranch is in Kenya, and before Xan is born his parents take in a lost cheetah cub. The book is full of incredible photos of Xan, from infancy growing up with Dooms. Xan's mother Carol is a wildlife photographer and this book is full of beautiful, incredible photos.
The kids and I were captivated by seeing real life photos of a real life "Calvin" growing up with a real live "Hobbes", the photos are just breathtaking-allowing the reader for a moment to see the fantasy of growing up with a beautiful wild animal-lived out.
Xan describes in 7 Chapters with lots of illustrations and photos...
*How dooms came to live with them *When Dooms was a baby *When Dooms was big, when I knew him *Dooms's friends *Dooms learns to find, hunt, and bring down his food *any day with Dooms *When Dooms got sick...and after
"When Dooms was listening he'd just stare at you peacefully with his big yellow eyes...He'd stare our far away on his plains and purr. When you brushed the short thick white hair under his chin, he'd close his eyes and throw his head back with a low purr that some people thought was a growl but we knew was a purr. That was his favorite, to feel the warm sun and the dry cool air around him. This was enough for him. And enough for you." -How it was with Dooms page 52
The story of a boy and his cheetah is the wonderful main part of this book, but we also really enjoyed all of the educational tidbits tucked away in this living book. As a homeschool family, we found the photo and description of the family's house and the roofing material-papyrus-very interesting after having studied early Egyptian writing for history. Also interesting were the photos of Xan's dad lugging Dooms down a ladder from the roof because Dooms could damage it with his sharp claws. Interesting facts about Cheetahs throughout the story, such as how the mother cheetah hides her cubs to hunt, how cheetahs need to catch their own wild food, that cheetah's claws do not retract like a cats, how fast they run, brought biology to life for the kids. The subject of camouflage took on new meaning in the real life story of how well a cheetah's coat blends into the grass, a little eerie when you think about it. We loved seeing the photos of the different wild animals in the family's yard, passing through. The photos of Dooms lounging with Xan, laying by the pool, being licked in the face by a family dog...are just captivating.
The last chapter will make you cry.
"At the [animal] hospital...Daddy had gone to move the car and Mama was still worried about the operation and wondering about it out loud and taking pictures of Dooms like she always did. You know how it is when you're doing something you think is important and you miss the thing that's really important. And so it was that we missed it..." page 61
The book was very different than the movie "Duma". The movie added in events that did not happen to make it exciting, though we all thought growing up with a cheetah was plenty exciting all in itself! The movie changed the location of the ranch from Kenya to South Africa, and had the dad die to introduce all the excitement of the plot. In real life, Xan's father did not die- but Dooms did, after exceeding the life expectancy of a cheetah in the wild. Xan and his mother wrote the book as a way to work through their grief over losing such a friend. In an interview I found with Xan online, Xan was grown up and an environmental policy major in College. He spoke about the differences in the movie and his life with Dooms, and about memories of Dooms taking afternoon tea with them everyday, his freedom to come and go as he pleased, his watching t.v. with them and the way Dooms listened.
This book has become one of my all-time favorites. Our copy is from the library, but I will be purchasing a copy for our home library, just so we can enjoy looking through the wonderful photos often. The movie was also very good-different from the book, but still a good movie-the kids really enjoyed it.
I found so many educational opportunities in this book. We will be drawing maps of Africa, locating Kenya and the location of the Hopcraft's farm. Narration and possible further studies of Cheetahs are in order, as are artwork inspired from the photographs in the book. A list or chart of other wild animals that live in Kenya, and a chart of the food chain of the cheetah are two other possible projects. For creative writing I am considering asking for a first person description of a day spent with Shalla, the cheetah cub that comes to live with the Hopcrafts later. A bigger project possibility would be making a scrapbook storybook with the children about one of our pets.
"How it was with Dooms" is really a book not to be missed.