Before we explore the ending, how about a refresher on how it all goes down. Here's the last stanza to do just that:
"Yes…That's what I'd do,"
Said young Gerald McGrew.
"I'd make a few changes
If I ran the zoo." (36.1-5)
You'll notice this stanza comes with a picture attached to it—the same picture that came with the first stanza. The repetition of the image suggests that the entire thing took place in young McGrew's mind. To be honest, there is the slight difference of the lion's cage being colored yellow where it was once blue. We assume this just signifies a time lapse between his first imaginings and when he snaps out of his own head.
Okay, the kid had a daydream. So what? In our reading, we were struck by the words put in italics in that last stanza: that's and I. As you'll recall, italics are meant to put a tonal emphasis on a particular word, something a little more subtle THAN ALL CAPS YELLING. Um, excuse us.
But why put these words in italics? Why not changes or Yes? We feel McGrew is trying to entice his readers here. That's what he would do if he ran the zoo. But what would you do? The italics seem to be a challenge, a way to get the reader involved. McGrew just told you what he'd do, so now it's your turn to let him know.
Sound familiar? That's because it's not too different from the end of The Cat in the Hat. At the end of that gem, the children ask the reader:
Should we tell her about it?
Now, what SHOULD we do?
What would you do
If your mother asked you? (43.1-5)
In both endings, Seuss asks the reader to join in his little literary game. In The Cat in the Hat, he directly asks the question, while in If I Ran the Zoo the challenge is implied. Either way, the ending puts the ball squarely in your readerly court.
But why doesn't Seuss just flat out ask in If I Ran the Zoo?, some of you might be asking. Well, The Cat in the Hat is meant for much younger readers than If I Ran the Zoo, which is why it's published under Seuss's Beginner Books label. Seuss needs to be a little more up front with this younger audience. If I Ran the Zoo is meant for a slightly older audience, one who is perhaps ready to begin tackling the language's more nuanced aspects.
So stretch your imagination, think beyond the common place, and create your own zoo, one filled with all the happenings and fantasy you can possible desire. Or, you know, put the book back on the bookshelf. Your choice.