"How It Was With Dooms," Xan and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft

Pros: Best photos I’ve ever seen; fantastic story; for adults and children alike
Cons: None!
Rating: 6 out of 5 (no, that isn’t a misprint)

First published 12/22/2000

This is my favorite book in the entire world, given to me for my birthday by my fiancee; he knows very well how much I love cheetahs. This is the book that makes all others look as though they couldn’t possibly deserve a 5, no matter how useful or beautiful they may be. (Which, err, is why I’m giving it a six instead…)

Oh, right, you want to know what the book is about. I’ll stop gushing now. Sorry about that.

“How It Was with Dooms: A True Story from Africa” is a picture-book about a family that took in a cheetah cub and how that cheetah (named “Dooms,” which is a nickname for a small boy cheetah that comes from Duma, the Swahili word for cheetah) became a part of their family. The picture book has a few child’s-drawings, but mostly it uses photography. This is a true story, after all.

The Photographs

I’ve never seen such amazing photographs in all of my life. I’ve taken to showing them to anyone who will sit still long enough to look, and each and every person has fallen in love with them. They’re beautiful, gorgeous. They have an astounding amount of personality to them. They just aren’t photos that anyone else could have taken.

There’s the photo of the fuzzy cheetah cub sitting on the edge of the sink staring out of the window, and the photo of the cub looking very confused as the family dog licks it. There are a couple of absolutely adorable shots of the parents holding the cheetah cub, and one of it staring fiercely up out of a basket. There’s the photo of Dooms’ first (and last!) bath.

There are photos of the grown cheetah allowing the family baby to pet it. There’s even one of it lying contentedly on top of the family car with the baby. There’s Dooms walking on the roof, Dooms sleeping with puppies sleeping on top of him, Dooms trying to push the father down into the pool with a paw on his head, Dooms looking very put out as the dog licks his face. I can’t possibly convey just how amazing these photographs are, how beautiful, how unusual. You’ve never seen anything like it before. And if you’re a cat lover, particularly if, like me, you love the big cats, you can’t possibly find a better book to own. It’s the next-best-thing to having a cheetah in your back yard.

The Story

The writing takes us gently through Dooms’ life, from the tiny cub brought to the family, through his various learning experiences (and the family’s learning experiences!), right through his eventual illness and death. And then the arrival of a tiny female cheetah cub, Shalla.

It’s a beautiful story. Okay, so sometimes I get sentimental and beautiful things make me cry. But this one makes me cry every time I get to the end of the book. Every single darn time.

The book is written by the boy who grew up with Dooms, and most of the photos were taken by his mother, I believe.

Age Appropriateness

It’s a picture book, so ostensibly it’s meant for children. On the back it recommends ages 6 and up. There are a few pictures of Dooms feeding with some blood on his face, and of course as I mentioned the subject of death comes up. I think this book is fine for children, though. It’s gentle, beautiful, and sad. It’s also perfect for adults – I haven’t been 6 for a long time, but I adore this book.

Do you love the big cats? The grace and speed of the cheetah? Then get a copy of this book. I expect it will become one of your favorite books, too.

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