by Irene Latham
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Pages: 288 Ages: 8 to 12
Back Cover: No kid knows more about zoo life than Whit. That’s because he sleeps, eats and even attends home-school at the Meadowbrook Zoo. It’s one of the perks of having a mother who’s the zoo director and a father who’s the head elephant keeper. Now that he’s eleven, Whit feels trapped by the rules and routine of zoo life. With so many exotic animals, it’s easy to get overlooked. But when Whit notices a mysterious girl who visits every day to draw the birds, suddenly the zoo becomes much more interesting. Who is the Bird Girl? And why does she come by herself to the zoo?
Whit has spent his life in a zoo—a real zoo. At the Meadowbrook Zoo Whit spends most of his day helping around the zoo and trying to get his parent’s attention. They have three rules for Whit:
- Don’t feed the animals.
Schoolwork comes first.
Don’t leave the zoo property for any reason.
Whit has done well by all three rules, but now he has met the Bird Gird, Stella. Stella is at the zoo most days with her sketchpad, sketching out the birds. Whit first watched her from afar for his animal field-study assignment assigned by home (zoo) schoolteacher Ms. Connie. He made notes in a recorder Ms. Connie insisted he carry, in case he found himself in an “unexpected adventure.” What Whit did not realize was that Stella would be the biggest unexpected adventure he would ever have at the zoo.
Whit’s parents are more interested in the zoo animals than in Whit. That is what it seems whenever Whit tries to get one of his parent’s attentions. When Whit talks he’s not heard or the subject changes to some zoo matter as if Whit had never spoken. Stella was in a bad situation herself, though a far more noxious situation. Stella’s unemployed and disabled father has driven himself to despair and now takes his pain medications, drinks, and watches television—when he is not yelling at Stella or her mother, or worse, hitting them.
When Whit and Stella become friends—Whit’s first and only friend—Whit’s behavior changes, but mom and dad are still too zoo oriented to notice the change. He is determined to help Stella escape from her home and is willing to break every rule to help her.
Don’t Feed the Boy is intended for readers ages ten to twelve. Stella’s abusive story would seem more for older kids, but the way in which Ms. Latham has written the story, the violence is not exploited for any reason and is actually toned down. What is not is the anxiousness each character has about their situation. Stella is in an abusive household, Whit’s home is neglectful. Together, they help each other get through the pains each feels.
The illustrations are pencil sketches (looks like to me) which are fantastic. I love the details, the little details I always rave about being missing, are in these illustrations. I love the texture the shading provides.
I like this story for one because of the animal and behind the zoo details. Whit’s father, Tony, is the head elephant keeper. When one of his elephants begins having a medical crisis, Tony’s emotions rival that of a father for his child. At first, I thought how great it would be to live at a zoo. Then Whit let me know it was not as great as it seems. Having a zoo full of animals is not the same as a family, no matter how much you might love animals.
Don’t Feed the Boy will be liked by boys and girls. The action is not fast paced, nor would I want it to be. Whit’s story is understood over time, while Stella’s situation jumps off the page. That contrast is what I found most interesting about this story. The change in Whit was also interesting. Parents that are afraid Stella’s situation may be too intense for their child should read this book first. I have no doubt they will then let their child read it. What might surprise you are how different children’s stories are today—and how much more fulfilling. Whit finds himself in a new world by story’s end and it is a satisfying ending.
For a tween’s view of this book click HERE!
Author: Irene Latham website Illustrator: Stephanie Graegin website Publisher: Roaring Brook Press website Release Date: October 16, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-59643-755-5 Number of Pages: 288 Ages: 8 to 12 Grades: 3 to 7 ... Copyright ©2012 by Roaring Brook Press Text: Copyright ©2012 by Irene Latham Illustrations: Copyright ©2012 by Stephanie Graegin, used with permission.