This was an interesting read for me. I almost didn't finish it. It really didn't grab me for about the first 80 pages. Page 81 was where it really got interesting.
Here is the summary from GoodReads:
No kid knows more about zoo life than Whit. That's because he sleeps, eats and even attends home-school at the Meadowbrook Zoo. It's one of the perks of having a mother who's the zoo director and a father who's the head elephant keeper. Now that he's eleven, Whit feels trapped by the rules and routine of zoo life. With so many exotic animals, it's easy to get overlooked. But when Whit notices a mysterious girl who visits every day to draw the birds, suddenly the zoo becomes much more interesting. Who is the Bird Girl? And why does she come by herself to the zoo? Determined to gain her trust, Whit takes the Bird Girl on his own personal tour of the zoo. He shows her his favorite animals and what happens with them behind the scenes. For Whit, having a friend his own age that he can talk to is an exciting new experience. For Stella the Bird Girl, the zoo and Whit are a necessary escape from her chaotic home life. Together they take risks in order to determine where it is they each belong. But when Stella asks Whit for an important and potentially dangerous favor, Whit discovers how complicated friendship and freedom-- can be.
I don't think this book would be a great one for my current grade 3 class, nor for book club. The book focuses on issues that are a little older than my kids. Whit develops a friendship with Stella that is a little obsessive. He also makes some really bad choices. Although, discussing the things he did would be quite interesting in book club.
Other interesting topics:
- zoos - ethical or not?
- Whit's mom is the main breadwinner in the family and has a job where her husband reports to her. Not a common theme in books. The dads aren't the strong patriarchal types - Stella's dad is unemployed because of an accident and doesn't do anything but sit in his chair, and Whit's dad is an elephant keeper.
- Rebelling against your parents and keeping secrets from your parents.
- drug use (Stella's dad appears to be addicted to prescription drugs because of an accident)
- running away (Stella's brother has run away after a confrontation with dad, Stella runs away and Whit leaves the zoo, something which is forbidden)
- homeschooling versus bricks and mortar schooling (Whit is homeschooled and is quite lonely for friends his age)
- learning to be happy with what he have (Whit lives in a zoo! Who wouldn't love that? But he doesn't love it)