Living at the zoo sounds pretty sweet, but 11-year-old Whit has soured on the experience, having spent his whole life at the Meadowbrook Zoo in Alabama, which is run by his busy and distracted parents. Both Whit's parents and his homeschool teacher, Ms. Connie, have taught him a great deal about exotic animals, though he'd rather be surrounded by a more ordinary species: other kids. When Whit notices a girl who visits the zoo each day to sketch the birds, he sets his heart on getting to know the "Bird Girl" and finally making a friend his own age. Unfortunately, being a good friend to "Bird Girl," whose actual name is Stella and who has troubles at home, involves taking dangerous risks and breaking rules that test Whit's courage and his parents' trust. The unusual setting and the characters' tricky family dynamics add tension and zest to Latham's (Leaving Gee's Bend) empathetic friendship tale, as do Graegin's pencil drawings, which portray the story's upsetting and uplifting moments with gentleness. Readers won't soon forget Whit and Stella's adventures. Ages 8-12. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Oct.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC
Gr 3-6--Growing up in a zoo should be full of adventures, but 11-year-old Whit is bored by the same routine, his homeschooling, and his lack of human friends. His father is the elephant trainer and fond of giving lectures about when he was a boy, and his mother is so absorbed with her position as Meadowbrook Zoo Director that she barely notices her son. When a girl starts showing up daily to draw the birds, Whit is intrigued and determined to make friends. After dubbing her the Bird Girl, he learns that his new friend is there to escape a troubled home. Whit feels the desire to help, but suddenly he is drawn in too far. Things come to a head when Bird Girl asks him for a favor that he's not comfortable doing. While Latham's plot has promise, her delivery is lackluster. This is solid storytelling, but there is very little tension, even in the scenes with Bird Girl's volatile father. Character development is somewhat thin, and the illustrations, while probably meant to mimic the drawings in Bird Girl's sketchbook, give the book a much younger feel than its intended audience. It's an uneasy cohesion.--Jamie Kallio, Orland Park Public Library, IL[Page 122]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.