Reviews for Whittington


Booklist Reviews 2005 May #2
Gr. 5-8. "So what do you want, Mr. Whittington?"^B "A place to live," the cat replies to Lady, the take-charge duck asking the questions, as Whittington attempts to sell his skills as a ratter and all-around useful fellow. Once he does and becomes part of the community of outcast animals who look after one another in softhearted Bernie's old barn, readers will settle in with him for a tale of charming animal bravura. Whittington entertains the group daily with the tale of his ancestor, Dick Whittington's cat, and relates the story of Whittington's fourteenth-century escapades as a rags-to-riches British merchant and far-traveling adventurer. The story works beautifully, both as historical fiction about medieval street life and commerce and as a witty, engaging tale of barnyard camaraderie and survival. A third strand, about Bernie's grandchildren, particularly Ben and his troubles and eventual success with learning to read, seems forced and didactic in what is otherwise a very strong story. Final illustrations not available. ((Reviewed May 15, 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2005 August
An enchanting barnyard tale

Wonderful children's books are published each year, yet it's rare to find a story as original and endearing as Alan Armstrong's new novel, Whittington. Part fantasy (like Charlotte's Web, the setting is a barn), and part historical fiction, the story is all charm. S.D. Schindler's delightful illustrations round out a book sure to please readers young and old.

The story begins when a stray, battered cat, formerly known as Bent Ear but now called Whittington, meets Lady the duck, the reigning monarch of Bernie's barn. "In Bernie's barn they call me the Lady because I'm in charge," she announces.

Whittington soon finds a home there, along with an assortment of cast-off and retired chickens, horses, a goat, rats and other creatures. It's a well-functioning democratic community, whose inhabitants take special interest in befriending Bernie's two grandchildren, Abbie and Ben, who have recently lost their mother.

Interwoven with the story of the animals and Ben's struggles with reading is Whittington's tale of how he came to be named after the legendary Dick Whittington, a 14th-century British merchant and philanthropist. As the author explains in an excellent note, the historical Richard Whittington was born in the late 1350s and became the richest merchant of his day as well as the lord mayor of London. After the death of his wife and daughter, he donated much of his fortune to charity. Somewhat later, the name of Dick Whittington became attached to a 13th-century Persian folktale abut an orphan who obtained a fortune thanks to his amazing cat.

As the seasons pass in Bernie's barn, Whittington entertains both animals and children with the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat, whose skills as a ratter were truly legendary. The story is full of interesting details about medieval times, as listeners (and readers) follow Dick's apprenticeship to a London merchant and his trading voyages at sea. At the same time, the group in the barn comes together to help young Ben tackle his problems with reading.

Whittington is full of homey wisdom and quirky characters, both human and animal. If your family loves Charlotte's Web and is looking for a wonderful read-aloud, search no further.

Deborah Hopkinson also writes about a famous voyage in her new book for children, Who Was Charles Darwin? Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Spring
In three entertaining plot strands, Ben and his sister listen in as the titular descendant of Dick Whittington's cat negotiates a truce betw?en the creatures in their grandfather's New England barn. The cat and a duck insist that Ben's sister teach dyslexic Ben to read, with the cat telling tales of his famous ancestor. An endnote/bibliography summarizes what's known of the real and the legendary Dick Whittington. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #4
First novelist Armstrong juggles three plots with aplomb. Bernie harbors needy creatures in his New England barn -- two ancient racehorses; various fowl like the wing-clipped duck "in charge"; and more. Enter the titular descendant of Dick Whittington's cat, a stray who negotiates a much-needed truce with the rats (no killing chicks, but the rats get food) -- first step toward a peaceable kingdom where communal mothering will bring out each animal's best. Meanwhile, Bernie's grandchildren visit the barn and listen in. Ben is dyslexic and may have to repeat a grade; Whittington and the duck insist that Ben's sister teach him to read, with Whittington rewarding Ben with tales of the cat's famous ancestor and her master Dick. As winter gives way to spring, the cat's remarkably well-informed oral history embroiders the legend of the fifteenth-century mayor with the tale of a botanical quest to the Mediterranean. There are tangential incidents and a bit more detail on the teaching of reading than serves the story; still, all of Armstrong's plot strands entertain, while Ben's epiphany when he finally catches on is just right: reading "was like coming in out of the dark...like being born." An endnote/bibliography summarizes what's known of both the real and the legendary Whittington. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2005 July #1
Into Bernie's barn, filled with castoff animals he has either actively collected or hasn't the heart to refuse, wanders Whittington the cat, an ugly bruiser of a tom who seeks community. Abby and Ben, Bernie's grandchildren, also seek refuge in the barn; they live with him because their mother is dead and they don't know where their father is. Over the course of seasons, from winter till fall, Whittington tells the story of his namesake, Dick Whittington, and his famous cat. Entwined with Whittington's storytelling is Ben's struggle to learn to read, and the commitment of both humans and animals to his success. The magic that allows Abby and Ben and the animals to talk to each other is understated and assumed, unremarkable. What is remarkable is the compelling quality of both characterization and story. Even as the youthful exploits of the long-dead Lord Mayor of London bring together friend and foe in the barn, the finely drawn characters and the small-scale but no less monumental struggle of Ben to read keep the pages turning. It's a lovely paean to the power of story and the words that carry it along. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2005 August
Gr 4-6-This superior novel interweaves animal fantasy and family story with a retelling of the English folktale "Dick Whittington and His Cat." A battered tomcat named Whittington arrives one late-fall day at a New England barn, where he gradually befriends the equally ragtag group of animals already adopted by the barn's taciturn but soft-hearted owner, Bernie. When the year's first big snowstorm traps the bored animals in the barn, Whittington begins telling the story of his namesake, Dick Whittington, to an audience that grows to include Bernie's parentless grandchildren. The feline continues the story as winter grinds on, and the children and animals together absorb Dick's tale of good fortune, which he earned through trust in the advice of his dear friend, a remarkable cat, and his own hard work and struggles. The tale parallels that of Ben, Bernie's grandson, who learns to read once he trusts the advice of his friends and takes extra classes to help him overcome his dyslexia. Graceful prose, engaging human and animal characters, and a deft interweaving of three story lines make this book worthy of comparison to the work of Dick King-Smith and E. B. White. Teachers and librarians looking for a classroom choice to follow Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003) take note: Whittington reads aloud beautifully, and the extended happy ending will leave everyone smiling in delight.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2005 June
When a battered cat named Whittington arrives at Bernie's barn, he soon proves to be a welcome addition to the motley crew who live there, most notably for his giftedness as a storyteller as well as for the fascinating story that he has to tell. Bernie's grandchildren, Abby and Ben, also fall under the spell of Whittington's marvelous tales. As Ben struggles with his reading, the Lady, a duck who is the unofficial matriarch of the group, arranges for Abby to tutor him every day in the barn. Whenever he shows signs of frustration, she calls upon Whittington to regale them with further installments of his saga. As Whittington tells the story of the man for whom he had been named, Ben wrestles with his reading, and this mismatched collection of creatures quietly support one another through travails big and small. This simple but elegantly written tale will enchant younger readers who will come to love Bernie's barnyard brood as friends. The author adeptly moves between the more modern story of Ben's struggles and the story of the boy named Dick Whittington and his remarkable cat, as told by the feline Whittington. The adventuresome and somewhat exotic nature of Whittington's tale adds more action and drama to the plot, although it never loses the warmth and wit of its barnyard setting. It will find a wide readership in most public and school libraries.-Lisa Doucet PLB $16.99. ISBN 0-375-92864-2. 4Q 4P M Copyright 2005 Voya Reviews.

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VOYA Reviews 2005 August
When a battered cat named Whittington arrives at Bernie's barn, he soon proves to be a welcome addition to the motley crew who live there, most notably for his giftedness as a storyteller as well as for the fascinating story that he has to tell. Bernie's grandchildren, Abby and Ben, also fall under the spell of Whittington's marvelous tales. As Ben struggles with his reading, the Lady, a duck who is the unofficial matriarch of the group, arranges for Abby to tutor him every day in the barn. Whenever he shows signs of frustration, she calls upon Whittington to regale them with further installments of his saga. As Whittington tells the story of the man for whom he had been named, Ben wrestles with his reading, and this mismatched collection of creatures continue to quietly support one another through travails big and small. This simple but elegantly written tale will enchant younger readers who will come to love Bernie's barnyard brood as friends. The author adeptly moves between the more modern story of Ben's struggles and the story of the boy named Dick Whittington and his remarkable cat, as told by the feline Whittington. The adventuresome and somewhat exotic nature of Whittington's tale adds more action and drama to the plot, although it never loses the warmth and wit of its barnyard setting. It will find a wide readership in most public and school libraries.-Lisa Doucet PLB $16.99. ISBN 0-375-92864-2. 4Q 4P M Copyright 2005 Voya Reviews.

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