Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander

Just about every morning in my classroom, I have some sort of welcome message on my board for when the kids walk in the door. It could be an interesting photo from the news, a quote to think about, a silly meme, or just some instructions for the morning. One of my students and I bonded quickly over cat memes, such as this one: IMG_2046 He’s a cat person, I’m a cat person= insta-bond! Somewhere in the dark corners of my classroom library he was able to located the book Time Cat. I didn’t know I had it; it has the previous teacher’s name written across the front, so it was apparently abandoned when she switched schools. Being a cat fan and a history buff, he immediately read it. And then I think he read it again. All year, he asked me to read this book, and I know at least one other student caught on and read it, too. I packed it in my big box o’school stuff to bring home for summer vacation and I just finished it the other day. This was not a book I’d ever heard of before, older than me even (!), but when I picked it up and looked inside I discovered that this author wrote The Prydain Chronicles, which includes The Black Cauldron. Now, I may be a cat person, and I may be a Harry Potter person, but first and foremost I am a Disney person! The Black Cauldron is an animated Disney movie. I had no idea that this was the same author! Now we are in familiar territory, and now I have new books to read. Always read that little list in the front of your books, people. You can gather interesting information and new things to add to your To Be Read list. time catSo, Time Cat is about a boy, Jason, and his cat, Gareth. The book begins with Jason having a terrible, rotten, no good, very bad day in which he gets in trouble, fights with his brother, ruins the project he was working on and gets sent to his room. As you do, presumably to think about what you have done, right? Jason is having his own little pity party when suddenly Gareth, who has been napping, looks over and basically says, “Do you want to get out of here for a while?” Guess what? The cat can travel through time and space to nine different places (or nine separate lives, get it?) and he can bring a friend along. You know you’re reading a fantasy book because Jason’s immediate response is “YES!” Obviously, anyone who has owned a cat knows they are at least a little bit magical–

“Where do you think cats go when you’re looking all over and can’t find them?” Gareth replied. “And have you ever noticed a cat suddenly appear in a room when you were sure the room was empty? Or disappear, and you can’t imagine where he went?”

There are rules of course: Gareth can only talk to Jason when nobody else is around, so they won’t be able to communicate most of the time. They get no special protections as they time travel, so they can get hurt or worse and there is no way to prevent that, so being careful is really important. Lastly, Jason must stay with Gareth the whole time because if they get separated there is no way for him to get home by himself. That seems fair, right? So off they go! They visit ancient Egypt, where cats are worshipped. Then they visit Rome, Ireland, Italy, Peru, and Japan, just to mention a few different places. They run into a some recognizable figures from history as well, so watch for those to pop up. They end up in colonial America where they participate in sounding an alarm against the Redcoats. Very exciting stuff. But for me, not quite exciting enough. The tension between Jason and Gareth never built up enough to make me worry about them getting lost. Jason can magically speak the language of whatever country they go to, so communicating with people is not really an issue either. Also, because the book is older, it’s not exactly culturally correct anymore. An old man they meet in Japan is described as having a face “the color of a pale lemon” and one of the characters actually says the words, “Ah so!” which is an old caricature  of an Asian person. The individual stories are pretty short, and the lessons are unclear, though Gareth reveals he has brought Jason on this trip so he can learn how to grow up. The sacrifice for this trip? Jason will no longer be able to talk to his cat again. I was a little mad that Gareth did not disclose that as one of his rules at the beginning. Despite the things I did not like about this book, it was perfect for my student because he was not a big reader, and the small stories-within-a-big-story format made this very approachable for him to tackle. I think it fit well into our silent reading time because it was easy to pick up and put down as time allowed. For this reason, Time Cat would also make a nice read aloud book as well. Time Cat has an AR level of 4.7 and is worth 5 points.

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Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

endangeredThe Democratic Republic of Congo is a country in Africa. (Remember Africa is not just one giant country; it is a continent made of many countries.) Congo is a very unstable country, with almost constant warring between different political groups. It is a country of great mineral wealth, though the people are poor. Most children do not attend school because they must work to support their families. Some children end up as soldiers. Congo also has bonobos, endangered members of the great ape family. This is the real setting where the fictional story, Endangered, takes place.

Our main character is Sophie, who lives with her father in the US during the school year, and in Congo with her mother in the summer. Sophie’s mom runs a sanctuary for the bonobo apes, raising and protecting them so they can eventually be released into the wild on a reserve that is protected from hunters. On her way into town, Sophie sees a man on the street, dragging around a baby bonobo. She buys the ape from the man, trying to save the poor creature from being sold for food. Her mother is furious, and the reason why becomes clear very quickly. This one simple decision creates a bigger dilemma, and as a result, Sophie is tasked with taking care of her new bonobo, now named Otto, for the summer. Sophie’s mom must leave on a trip, but shortly afterward, a rebellion breaks out. The story follows Sophie and Otto as they must flee the sanctuary and trek through the war-torn countryside, facing real threats to their survival. Some scary stuff happens along the way. It is an interesting comparison between apes and their social structure to humans and our societies, when we are so closely related by genetics. What makes them so different, yet so relatable? Other questions come up as well, concerning animal welfare v. human welfare issues. Here is a clip from the author, Eliot Schrefer:

This book made me think and I learned a lot. Sophie is smart and calm under pressure when faced with difficult situations.  Who is more endangered in this story, the girl or the bonobos?  Or is it all of Congo? Would you be able to survive?

If you read The One and Only Ivan, this book would be the next step up. It is more scientific in how it presents information, and it is definitely written at a higher level, both in language and content. 

Endangered has an AR level of 6.2 and is worth 12 points. The author plans to write a book for each of the great apes; the second one is called Threatened and is about chimpanzees, and book three will be about orangutans. Also, Mr. Schrefer is writing a book in the Spirit Animals series, which were very popular in my classroom this past year, so now we have more things to add to our TBR (to-be-read) lists!