Chicken House (Scholastic)
Published Oct 1, 2011
Hardcover, 176 pages
Billy lives in a town where stray cats have become a problem and are mistreated by some who would rather be rid of them. He finds a little kitten who is hurt and starving, names her Conga and hides her in his bedroom so that his fighting parents won't know. Billy is lonely, but having Conga exposes him to other cat-loving characters and together they stop the town from getting rid of the abandoned strays.
This book has such an adorable cover and it appealed to my almost 8 year-old son. We read it together and I immediately noticed that although it's marketed for 8-11 year olds, the language is quite advanced and I had to stop repeatedly to explain expressions to my son. This is obviously not a bad thing, but I could see that sometimes he had no clue what I had just read!
Billy is a wonderful character who loves Conga even if his father hates cats. He takes care of it and the scenes between them are quite endearing. Billy's parents fight and there is tension in the family. Billy has no one to confide in. He later meets two teens: Luke who feeds the stray cats and Salome who loves to draw them. I would have liked to have seen more dialogue or interaction between these characters to get to know them better. They were all loners.
My son struggled a little through this book because he found it sad. I understood what he meant. Billy's dad and many of the townfolks were rough. Cats were mistreated and their safety was always in danger. The author brings the cats to life so well, especially Conga, that they are as much a part of the cast of characters as Billy and the others. The reader gets to feel the pain of the cats, especially the mother cats trying to protect their young ones. Sensitive children may find these scenes hard. It wasn't lost on me that Billy too seems abandoned by parents too busy to even notice he had a cat in his room for months. Perhaps it wasn't lost on my son either.
The book ends beautifully but its impact would have been more powerful for my son had there been more clarity leading up to it. There are serious themes in this book such as a town's responsibility to care for its abandoned animals, parental involvement or lack of when teaching their children morals, loyalty, and finally the courage to stand up to what one believes and facing up to change. At times, these may have been too heavy for my son.
Overall, this is an insightful story about a boy and the cat he finds and loves and how this relationship changes his life. But the cruelty towards helpless animals may be hard for some children to read, especially those who love cats.
This book is rated V = mild violence for scenes of kids bullying cats and killing one of them, kids shooting with a pellet gun.
Reviewed by Laura
Disclosure: Thanks to Nikole Kritikos from Scholastic for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.
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