A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (Juvenile Fiction)

A Boy Called Bat (Bat Trilogy #1) 

Elana K. Arnold (Juvenile Ficiton)

Bixby Alexander Tam, nicknamed Bat, has a long list of things he doesn’t like: unspoken rules, people rumpling his hair, eating leftovers, food smashed together, cheese that has to be sliced, loud sounds, and waiting. But one thing that Bat DOES like is the orphaned newborn skunk that his veterinarian mother brings home one day. Although it’s hard for Bat to connect with people, he forms an instant bond with the kit and silently promises the animal that he will figure out a way to keep him. With the help of his third-grade teacher, Bat forms a plan that’s sure to make the baby skunk a permanent member of the Tam family. Afterall, Bat made a promise and he never lies. Lying makes him feel itchy…another thing that Bat doesn’t like.

A Boy Called Bat is the first in a series of three books in the Bat Trilogy. Written with candor and warmth, Arnold gives young readers a story of a boy on the autism spectrum who struggles to regulate his emotions, understand non-verbal social cues, navigate unexpected circumstances, and just adjust to life in general. We wince as we watch Bat say things without thinking, misread body language, and overreact to situations that all end in awkward and painful outcomes. Arnold accurately captures the nuances that are associated with the autism spectrum such as dealing with the subtleties of sarcasm or taking idioms literally. Spoken language along with unspoken facial cues and body gestures are just everyday landmines that Bat has to constantly tiptoe around with one wrong step spelling disaster.

Although I am a sucker when it comes to brother-and-sister relationships that are all cuddles and kisses and unicorn wishes, I did appreciate Arnold portraying Bat’s sister Janie realistically. She often loses her temper with Bat, she knows exactly what buttons to push when she wants a reaction out of him (and she DOES push), and yes, she thinks he’s weird. But Janie’s human and you really can’t fault her for wanting a predictable trip out or just ONE boring dinner with no drama. Yes, she’s a stinker because she knows better than anyone else how many things are out of Bat’s control, but I think that’s why I like her so much. She’s every sibling out there who assumes the dual roles of defender and detractor and it’s rewarding and exhausting at the same time. For every Bat, there’s one or two Janies and they deserve attention, patience, and understanding as well.

I think my favorite part of the book was how Bat viewed his mom: “Then he followed Mom through the door that separated the waiting room from the back and watched as she took her white coat from its hook. She put it on, and then Mom was Dr. Tam. A veterinarian. Better than a superhero.” Valerie Tam wasn’t a superhero because she was able to make sick animals well. She was extraordinary because she championed and believed in a boy who thought himself to be less than perfect. Parents of neurodiverse children put on a cape every single day—not because they want to, but because they have to because they know exactly who they’re fighting for and what they’re fighting against and they won’t ever, ever give up. Take that, Superman.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com

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My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (Juvenile Fantasy)

My Father’s Dragon (The Tales of My Father’s Dragon Series #1)  

Ruth Stiles Gannett (Juvenile Fantasy)

Elmer Elevator wants to fly more than anything in the world and will do whatever it takes to have that chance. He soon gets his wish when a wet alley cat tells him of an imprisoned baby dragon held on Wild Island. Soon, Elmer has packed his knapsack and secretly stowed away on a ship headed to the Island of Tangerina. But Wild Island is dangerous and no one has ever come back alive from it. No one except for a wet alley cat. Loaded up with some lollipops, hair ribbons, rubber bands, an empty grain sack, and a few other inconsequential items, Elmer is off on the adventure of a lifetime, but can he survive the dangers of Wild Island AND rescue the dragon? For a chance to fly, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

My Father’s Dragon is the first in The Tales of My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett. It’s a short and fanciful story showcasing the cleverness and ingenuity of a young boy that is retold by his son. At seventy-four pages, it’s a fast read full of slapstick scenarios and delightful dilemmas. The book has a recommended reading age of 8 to 12, but if it’s read aloud, younger readers can enjoy Elmer’s antics as well—which I highly encourage. Although Elmer does encounter tigers, a lion, crocodiles, a gorilla, and wild boars that are ALL trying to eat him, these incidents are silly rather than scary and children will revel in how Elmer manages to slip out of one precarious predicament after another.

The only things better than the story are the wonderful illustrations by Gannett’s stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett. Her black-and-white, grease-crayon drawings are a wonderful complement to her stepdaughter’s words and give life to Elmer and the inhabitants of Wild Island. What I loved most was the map included at the beginning of the book. It not only labels the islands and ports, but it also shows readers where Elmer slept, met the fisherman, stopped to talk to tortoises, and other events that happened along his journey. This added attention to detail truly allows readers to become a part of Gannett’s world as they follow Elmer’s path in his quest to find and rescue the dragon.

One of my favorite quotes on bravery is this one by American journalist Franklin P. Jones: Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid. And although this is a whimsical and silly fantasy book, it gives us a valuable lesson of how a young boy pushed aside his fear and used wit rather than weapons to outsmart his foes and help a fellow creature in need. On second thought, there’s nothing really silly about that after all.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com

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The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (Adult Inspirational)

The Time Keeper

Mitch Albom (Adult Inspirational Fiction)

Before he was Father Time, he had been just another human: a boy who loved to run and had best friends; a young man in love with a passion for measuring things; and a man who had a wife and children. His name was Dor and he was different…and God had noticed for God realized how one different child could change the world. But Dor had angered God and would endure thousands of years of isolation before being released back to the world where he must help two souls: a troubled teen with too much time and a wealthy businessman with too little. To finally finish what he had started, Dor must now teach these two very different people the value of time and to understand the reason why God limits man’s days.

This is the third book by Albom that I’ve read and his words continue to enlighten, encourage, and inspire me. Albom relays how precious time is through Dor, teenaged Sarah Lemon, and elderly Victor Delmonte. The Time Keeper’s short chapters and sparse prose may give readers a false sense that this will be a “quick read”. On the contrary, Albom’s measured words give his story weight and substance that allow readers the opportunity to absorb and ruminate the messages he conveys spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Albom is clearly a man of faith, but his words of encouragement and hope appeal to people across all faiths or who are in varying stages of their own religious journey.

Albom adequately develops both Sarah’s and Victor’s characters so that we understand their situation and the reason behind their actions; however, Sarah is by far the more sympathetic of the two given her naivete, background, and age. Her circumstance is more relatable to the vast majority of readers since most have experienced the sting and humiliation of being spurned by a first love while few know what it’s like to live a lifestyle where money truly is no object. Although we may be more emotionally drawn to one character than the other, we share in their common desire to either make any promise or strike any bargain in order to have more power over time.  

Although Albom peppers his book with countless memorable quotes, I’m compelled to end this review with a quote from John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Dor, Sarah, and Vincent all spent their precious days planning, calculating, predicting, and formulating circumstances or situations to their individual benefit. Whether trying to control time, start a romance, or stop an illness, all were missing out on the now and failed to realize the effect their obsessions were having on the ones that loved them most. And although time does indeed fly, we should all take a little comfort in knowing that not only are we in charge of our own course, but also with whom we choose to soar.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (Juvenile Fiction)

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed (Juvenile Fiction)

Twelve-year-old Amal belongs to one of the more prosperous families in her Punjabi village in Pakistan and dreams of becoming a teacher. She vividly remembers that particular afternoon: the smell of the chalkboard, the students chattering outside the door, and talking poetry with her teacher, Miss Sadia. Little did she know that that would be her last day at school. While at the market, Amal encounters and challenges the son of the village’s powerful landlord—a slight that would have unimaginable consequences. She is forced to pay off her family’s debt by working on the Khan estate where she begins to realize the full extent of the family’s vast wealth and power. Amal must summon all her strength and courage to change the status quo because if everyone decided that nothing could ever change, then nothing ever would.

Amal Unbound is a captivating read and its short chapters allow readers to absorb the important messages and lessons that fill each page. The societal and cultural limitations that Amal brings to light accurately reflect her life and the obstacles that she faces. The idea of “fairness” is a major theme throughout the book and she constantly recalls her father’s words of life’s unfairness whenever she is at a crossroads. This is a hard thing to reconcile given the number of things totally out of her control: her sex (Maybe then I would not have learned that they thought being a girl was such a bad thing.), her birth order (Why did this random chance [being the eldest] have to dictate so much of my destiny?), and political power (How many lives had this man upended? Why did no one stop him?).

Saeed delivers a story about an ordinary girl who does an extraordinary thing…she has the audacity to speak out for change. Amal quickly realizes that life comes down to a series of choices. Choices that she doesn’t want to make or feels that she lacks the courage to do so. But her teacher at the literacy center reminds her, “Making choices even when they scare you because you know it’s the right thing to do—that’s bravery.”

In her Author’s Note, Saeed shares the story of Malala Yousafzai who was shot at point-blank range by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. Her life was also a series of choices, and her courageous advocacy led her to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala once said, “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.” Amal was also scared, but sacrificed her own safety to bring about justice. In the end, she proved just how powerful a servant girl could be once she freed herself from the ties that bound her.  

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com

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