The School for Talking Pets
Kelli Anne Hawkins
336pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
When shy 12-year-old Rusty hears a cat talking on the television news about a secret school for pets on a hidden island, and the school’s principal announces a competition for children to submit why they and their pet should be accepted, he is very excited. After all, what could be better than getting to understand his blue-tongue lizard Bongo than having it talk to him? His father seems to be grumpy all the time since is mum died and doesn’t even seem to notice him much and although he is liked by his peers, he’s not one of the in-crowd.
So he writes his “25 -words-or less” and to his surprise he finds himself at the school for a week! But once on the island, things don’t go to plan. Already concerned that he and Bongo won’t meet the standards of the other winners from Japan, Germany, England and the USA, Rusty must work with them, a terrifyingly tattooed gardener, and a multitude of clever animals to save the school from the clutches of the two secret agents who have come to shut it down so their controllers can use the animals for their own purposes, and that is overwhelmingly hard for someone who has only one friend at his regular school because of his lack of self-confidence and shyness.
Described as “Doctor Dolittle meets Willy Wonka” this is a story for independent readers that has a unique plot but a familiar theme – that of “the child least likely…” finding themselves in a situation where they have to put their insecurities aside for the greater good of those around them and, in doing so, finding an inner strength they didn’t know they had. But deep down, regardless of all the external praise for his actions, like all kids, he just wants the recognition and approval of his dad, the most significant adult in his life.
When I offered a pile of review books to Miss 10 to choose those she wanted to read, this was the top of the pile and I think it will be the same for any young independent reader who wants something different but solid that has heroes and villains and just a touch of the extraordinary.