While readers unfamiliar with the Catholic faith may have trouble relating to a girl finding inspiration in St. Francis,...

SAVING PEG LEG

Faith meets animal welfare in this short debut novel for young readers.

Somewhere along the Connecticut River, a small wood turtle is born. Through various interactions with thoughtless kids, the turtle migrates unwillingly to upstate New York, where young Jane Spencer finds him. His harrowing journey has left him with an injured leg, and Jane is determined to help him heal. After taking him to the local veterinarian, she does her research and discovers that her new friend, whom she calls Peg Leg, is part of an endangered species that only lives in Connecticut. She worries for his health and safety, especially since he is without the use of one of his legs. While growing close with Peg Leg and tending to his needs, she is taught in Sunday school about the saints, including St. Francis of Assisi, who is best known for his service to all animals. She feels an immediate kinship to St. Francis, whose stained-glass visage caught her attention before Mass, and her strong faith leads her to do the very best she can to help acclimate Peg Leg to walking, first without a leg and then with a small, specially made prosthetic. Jane spends all summer with Peg Leg, taking him for walks and on excursions with her friends or brother. She even keeps a daily journal, carefully detailing Peg Leg’s care and progress. Fitzpatrick’s timely, gentle story is punctuated with simple pen images by debut illustrator MacDonald. At first glance, this book appears to be a nonfiction account about caring for turtles, but it is actually an appealing fictional glimpse of a common occurrence: a child rehabilitating an injured animal in order for it to thrive once again in the wild. The connection to Roman Catholicism will be a surprise to unsuspecting readers, but the allusions to St. Francis make sense within the context of this touching ecological tale.

While readers unfamiliar with the Catholic faith may have trouble relating to a girl finding inspiration in St. Francis, this sweet turtle tale delivers an important environmental lesson.

Pub Date: June 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5246-9480-7

Page Count: 96

Publisher: IdeoPage Press Solutions LLC

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2019

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR

Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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