Ben receives a mysterious, magical invitation to the Gee Museum and follows the bees to the front door. But he doesn't go in right away, he goes home and tells his Mom about it, and her reaction is...to not want to talk about it. Her sadness is tied to the Museum and a visit he and father made to it shortly before his disappearance, but Ben isn't sure how or why.
The building they live in has been sold to a developer, and they're worried the rent will go up and his Mom will have to close her knick-knack shop and move.
When Ben returns to the Museum, before he goes inside, he overhears the developer and the curator of a modern museum discussing the offer for the Gee Museum they're going to make to the old lady who owns it, and what they'll do (flood it) if she doesn't accept.
Ben rushes in to warn her, and lo and behold! The taxidermied animals come alive and talk to him. The pygmy hippo, an owl, a sengi (elephant shrew, actually closer related to elephants than shrews) and a chameleon.
There's a family legend of a magical gem that when carried in the mouth of a "water cow" can protect the Museum, but no one knows where it is, or what a "water cow" is (do you?). And a little scrap of paper claiming a witch is kept in a silver bottle, but who knows if that's true, either?
Ben needs all the help he can get to stop what happens next, figure out his connection to Ms. Gee, and protect the Museum from sure-disaster.
The author / illustrator explains at the end of this book, in her note, that many of the sketches and the idea for the story came while at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
We have a similar museum locally, referred to by moms and kids alike as the "dead animal museum," stuffed with taxidermied (multiples) animal exhibits. These kinds of museums do still have a place in current conservation messages and efforts, but once your kiddos reach a certain age, well, we stopped going altogether.
It makes my teen daughter infinitely sad, knowing the animals were slaughtered with abandon to hang on a wall or stand in a room, and like the pygmy hippo featured in this story, are quickly disappearing due to habitat loss. (Update: The elephant shrew, also featured in this book, was recently found in Africa after not being spotted for 50+ years! BBC Elephant Shrew Rediscovered in Africa after 50+ years! )