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Animals! Book Review Series - Number 3

 | Nov 23, 2011

The final set of reviews in this series about animals features books for grades seven through twelve. We'd like to thank members of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) of the International Reading Association (IRA) for contributing these fantastic reviews!

Grades 4-6 

Bial, Raymond. (2011). Rescuing Rover: Saving America’s dogs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rescuing Rover book coverClearly, Bial wants readers to be mindful of the responsibility of pet ownership, but he also wants to publicize the ever-increasing numbers of dogs who end up in animal shelters. Countless unwanted litters of puppies are born each year since their owners fail to have their dogs spayed or neutered, and those puppies often have nowhere to go. As part of his research for this nonfiction book, Bial visits several local animal shelters in Illinois to report on the dogs living there and the men and women who care for them. In his usual carefully detailed style, he describes the cost of caring for these unwanted animals and tells some of their stories. The book is filled with photographs that tug at the heart, including one on the cover that practically begs readers to take this dog home. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

MacLachlan, Patricia. (2011). Waiting for the magic. Illus. by Amy June Bates. New York: Athenenum. 

Waiting for the Magic book coverWhen their college professor father leaves the family in order to write, the three children left behind are as confused about his motivation for leaving as their mother is. But Mama doesn't take his desertion lightly, and she decides to replace her husband with a pet. After a trip to the animal shelter, they have five new pets, four dogs and a cat. The dogs range in size from a terrier to a Great Pyrenees. When their father finishes sewing his wild oats and trying to write in solitude, and returns home, the children have all come to recognize that these animals are able to talk to those who will listen to them. Along with Mama’s own surprise, the four dogs and a cat work to reunite a family that has come adrift. With the magic of love that only animals can weave, all find their way to forgiveness, if not understanding. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Wagner, Hilary. (2011). The White Assassin. New York: Holiday House. 

Fans of last year’s Nightshade City will be delighted with this follow-up story. The White Assassin book coverThree years have passed since the Catacombs were rescued from the dictatorial control of Killdeer and the viciously cruel Billycan. Since the white rat has disappeared into the swamps, all should be safe; however, Billycan now leads a group of swamp rats who are eager to help him wreak vengeance on Nightshade City. Juniper and his band of democratic rats thwart Billycan’s plans and bring him back to Nightshade City where he is given a truth serum so the rats can learn the identity of the traitor among them. But the truth serum is actually an antidote for the drugs Billycan was given as a lab rat.  Slowly, in a series of flashbacks, Billycan remembers poignant details about his time in the laboratory.  As evidence of treachery mounts, some old alliances threaten to crack while others form. This touching story about rat society also makes astute observations about the nature of humans, animal experiments, and the power of family and forgiveness. As in the previous title, the characters are complex with even Billycan garnering some empathy. The author has crafted a story that somehow romanticizes rats and leaves readers wanting even more. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Grades 7-12
Christopher, Lucy. (2011). Flyaway. New York: Chickenhouse/Scholastic.
Flyaway book coverA love for the swans that winter on the lakes near their home is something that thirteen-year-old Isla and her father share. But on one of their jaunts to determine where they have landed, her father becomes ill and is hospitalized. While visiting him, Isla meets Harry, who has leukemia and is waiting for a bone marrow transfusion. Harry spends his time looking from his window at a young swan that has been separated from the rest of the flock, and the two bond over their shared interest in this bird that seems unsure how to fly. Isla is convinced that her father will recover if the two of them can help the swan rejoin its flock and if she can make her school art project--a Leonardo Da Vinci-inspired flying machine made with a harness and real wings--work. The book’s lyrical passages, the description of the swan with an almost mystical connection to Isla, and the budding love between Isla and Harry demonstrate that Christopher clearly knows her way around the often complicated familial bonds that keep some members close and others at a distance. The scenes in which Isla runs as fast as she can, flapping her wings and coaxing the swan to follow her example, are stunning. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Deedy, Carmen Agra, & Wright, Randall. (2011). The Cheshire cheese cat: A Dickens of a tale. Illus. by Barry Moser. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree. 

The Cheshire Cheese Cat book coverSkilley is an alley cat looking for a warm place to spend the cold winter months. When he learns that the local innkeeper is looking for a cat that is a good mouser, he makes sure that the man sees him catching a mouse scurrying across the room. But as is often the case, things are not as they seem, and Skilley doesn’t kill the mice he catches. Instead, he becomes friends with one of the mice, Pip, who has a fondness for large vocabulary words when speaking. The inn is visited by several London writers, including Charles Dickens who is suffering from a writer’s block and is unable to come up with the right opening lines for his latest masterpiece. Looking for inspiration for his story, Dickens observes Skilley closely and realizes that he catches the same mouse over and over again. This tale is filled with wry humor and witty observations on the nature of humans and animals. The literary references will make careful readers smile. After all, it was the best of times and the worst of times, right? - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University

Animals! Book Review Series Number 2

CL/R SIG's Previous Book Review Series

Choices Reading Lists 

IRA Special Interest Groups 

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