September Books: Pets are Perfect

By on September 3, 2012

Back to school is the perfect time for sharing stories not only about vacation and travel, but funny stories about family experiences and pets. The books below offer a sampling of animal adventures and pet pals. Try them!

Wanted! A Guinea Pig Called Henry

By Wendy Orr, illustrated by Patricia Castelao. Henry Holt, $15.99, Ages 7–10.

Although the book is, as the title says, about guinea pig Henry, the story actually begins with a stumpy-tailed little brown dog named Nelly, who has the ability to calm frightened animals, even a terrified white cat and a shy kindergarten boy. However, before we learn about Henry, we meet Sam who surprises herself and her parents by saying she would rather have a pet than a party for her birthday.

Author Orr, who lives in Australia, has written several books in a series, called the Rainbow Street Shelter, in which the animal shelter plays an important part in the lives of the people and animals, who meet on its premises. Henry is the third in this series. And the story takes Sam and her family to the shelter for a visit where she meets, holds, pets and feeds several small animals, as she considers what pet she might choose to bring home with her the following week on her birthday.

As Sam thinks about, dreams of, decides on, prepares for, chooses and plays with her pet, she and her kindergarten age brother, Liam, are also getting ready for school to begin. Although Sam has always struggled with speaking and her arms and legs seem to refuse to do what she wants, her brain works just fine and she loves school. But Liam is shy and doesn’t want to read with so many kids around, despite the fact that he’ll talk to, and read a book to Nelly every time their family goes to the shelter.

Watching Liam and Nelly, gives Sam an idea – and her planning for and talking with the several adults to bring her idea to reality, draws the book to its satisfying close. Illustrator Castelao’s black and white drawings arch the Rainbow Street Shelter icon over each chapter heading, giving the story shape and continuity. The interspersed full-page and partial page images move the story, heightening its impact, and adding to its emotional authenticity.

Princess Posey and the Next Door Dog

By Stephanie Green, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson. $12.99, Ages 5–8

Posey uses her pink tutu, her necklace with the pink beads, her magic veil with the stars, her belt with purple flowers, and her princess wand to give her Princess Posey bravery – to “go anywhere and do anything. All by herself.” She decides to meet the dog with a huge WOOF! who has moved in next door, because she is supposed to write about “your pet” or “the pet you hope to own” for an assignment in first grade.

Secretly, Posey is afraid of dogs, ever since one knocked her over to lick her ice cream when she was little. By making the decision to take this important action, she confronts her fears, while Gramp’s wise words echo in her memory.

Author Green has written this third in the Princess Posey series with her own ear tuned to early readers and uses the princess theme with a charming twist of courage that can make even the most ardent anti-princess cult member give this book a second look. Short sentences and readable word choices are expressive without being choppy and, accompanied at pivotal intervals by Sisson’s black and white illustrations; together create appealing representative detail for new readers.

Despite being afraid, Posey notices the dog is whimpering like a baby — its paw is caught under the fence where it’s been digging. After Posey frees his paw, the new neighbor, Mrs. Romero, thanks her for being “Hero’s hero,” introduces them and with the dog on the leash, comes to meet Posey’s mom and her brother Danny. Not only does Posey show Hero to Tyler and Nick, the neighbor boys who have teased her about not being a “big kid,” but she has a story to read at school the next day.

Hiss-s-s-s!

By Eric Kimmel. Holiday, $16.95, Ages 8–12

Omar wants a snake.  He has passionately done his research online, not only about the kind of snake he wants, but how to care for and feed it, and where and how to keep it at home. He’s even negotiated to purchase necessary equipment from a kid whose snake died, and has located a trustworthy place to purchase the corn snake of his dreams.

From a multi-racial and –ethnic family, Omar hears snake stories from his father’s village experiences growing up, and abstractedly feels the important contribution snakes made historically, by killing rodents who ate the community’s store of grain. But he doesn’t fully understand the depth of his mother’s fear and loathing of snakes – in spite of her grudging acceptance of the snake in the home as long as she doesn’t have to see it or the frozen mice that are its diet – until it disappears.

With a curious younger sister, and a helpful school friend adding to the mix of complications, award winner Kimmel steps outside his familiar folktale mode of storytelling, and using his characteristic vivid writing style, captures for readers of this realistic middle grade novel, Omar’s sense of confusion when the snake makes a surprising reappearance in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, teaches classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web: http://meribeths.blogspot.com

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