Zookeepers’ daughter Lizzie has a memorable summer before seventh grade, as she befriends an intriguing boy, emulates John Muir, and investigates the mystery of suddenly sickened wolves at the John Muir Wildlife Park in Lodisto, California.
As the author’s note confirms, characters and setting are fictional, but much of the material in the text—including fascinating information about wildlife, John Muir, some spunky 19th-century women, and Yosemite National Park—is factual and well-integrated into the story. Lizzie and her father, Mike, both white, live literally on zoo grounds, in a house that includes a guest apartment. African-American Tyler has run away from his foster home and has been living outdoors, behind the elephant house. Lizzie secretly hides him in the guest apartment right around the time that the first wolf of the seven at the new Wolf Woods exhibit sickens and dies. Lizzie feels stricken when her favorite wolf, Lobo, apparently suffers the same fate. Or does he? Despite the fast pace of Lizzie and Tyler’s adventure—which climaxes in a harrowing 48 hours alone together at Yosemite—the text includes plenty of philosophical questions about animal rights and about relationships of all kinds. Tyler’s wry comments about his race add further dimensions to a thoughtful, well-told tale, as do the pencil drawings.
John Muir’s spirit hums along under a well-developed plot with likable characters. (Adventure. 8-12)