Certainly a book that I will give to my niece to read since she now has to do book talks at school, and she is required to do some talks on Newberry Award winners. Until she's read this book, though, this review will just be my take on it.
What I liked:
1) Quite a literary work, actually, and there is a lot to be impressed with in the artistic quality of the book. It's simultaneously simple and very complex. The language and words are thinned down, and made simpler, yet the ideas they convey and the emotions they evoke are complex. The economy of words really seems to make the feeling in his book more concentrated. As someone who struggles to pare down my words, this impressed me. I also found myself reading this book more as a series of poems that told stories in their own right, but when woven together they told a bigger story. I was pleased by how the author crafted this--it was rather potent, I thought.
What I didn't like:
1) I felt like the author was pretty heavy-handed with the message. Actually, overzealous, might be the right word. That was a big turn-off, and honestly, that is probably the reason this is a three star instead of a four star book for me. Maybe this would read differently to a kid, but I really felt the heavy-handedness was condescending, and clashed violently with the subtle elegance of the way this story was told.
2) Somehow it felt dated to me. The cruelty displayed to the animals in this book is illegal in today's world. I know that doesn't mean by any stretch of the imagination that animal cruelty and illegal poaching don't exist, but the way in which these animals were kept, and so publicly kept to boot, not to mention the open sale of a gorilla hand ashtray, just made the book feel like it was set in an era gone by. It didn't feel current, and I do think that young readers could have benefited from a few notes at the end explaining efforts made toward increasing worldwide awareness of animal cruelty and illegal poaching.
Still, it is a lovely work worth reading, and certainly some good literature for kids.
This evening my ten year old niece told me that she just finished reading this book (she read it upon my recommendation, which was nice. She was very enthusiastic about the book, and she told me, "Amy, that was such a good book, I really liked it! It was happy and sad." I told her that when something is happy and sad at the same time that's called bittersweet. She said, "Huh. That's weird, but I guess that this book was bittersweet and good, then." She felt so strongly about this book I gave it another star.