A 12-year-old girl learns that having a pet isn’t just fun—it can be hard work!
In the fourth volume in Wittler’s (The Magic Pigeon Trap, 2013, etc.) middle-grade series, fifth-grader Grace is an animal person without a pet to call her own. Her little brother, Will, a kindergartner who pretends to be a puppy, doesn’t count. Grace is envious of her friend Karen, who has a cat, while her friend Stephie deals with accidental puppies that put her in the doghouse. But every time Grace asks her mom when her family can get a pet, the answer is “Not yet.” It doesn’t help that her mother is allergic to cats. So when Will and Jack, their middle brother, win free goldfish at the school festival, Grace sees an opportunity to work on her mom from a different direction. Fish aren’t real pets, but once the kids have their foot in the door, a puppy could be next! Then the fish start dying, and when Grace does manage to convince her mother to welcome a furry friend into the house, she discovers that training isn’t as fun as she expected. Can Grace ever get the pet experience she wants? Grace is a likable narrator, and her assumptions about pet care—that it’s all benefit, no work—are thoughts many kids her age might have before getting their first pets. Children who already have experience will easily identify with Stephie, who takes on the role of Grace’s mentor and shows her, by the end of the book, just how satisfying life with a pet can be if the humans put in the effort needed. All three siblings act in authentic ways, and their relationships are built on both rivalry and love. When Will’s toy is the first casualty of puppy training gone wrong, Grace’s actions show admirable maturity and kindness. Wittler captures young voices well in the narration and dialogue, and she doesn’t allow her characters to find easy answers to complex problems.
Readers new to this series will be eager to pick up Grace’s previous titles while looking forward to future adventures.