Yearling, an Imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2006
From the back of the book, “Bernie keeps a barn full of animals the rest of the world has no use for—two retired sulky horses, an overly enthusiastic rooster, some banty hems, and a Muscovy duck with clipped wings called the Lady. The Lady is pretty much the Law, and so, when the tough-looking cat who calls himself Whittington shows up one day, it is to the Lady that he makes an appeal to secure a place in the barn.
“This is the earthy story of Bernie’s barn, not without its life-and-death dramas. It is the story of Bernie’s grandson, Ben, who is reading below grade level and struggles with lessons from his sister, Abby, every day in the barn. And it is the rousing and exotic tale the cat, Whittington, tells as balm for Ben after the grueling lessons—the adventures of Dick Whittington, who once made his fortune because of a nameless cat. Masterfully interwoven these threads become a novel about the healing, transcendent power of storytelling and how, if you have loved ones surrounding you and good stories to tell, to listen to, and to read, you have just about everything of true value in this world.”
We enjoyed this book quite a bit. We liked Whittington a lot – he’s a scrappy cat who’s been around – and has the scars to prove it. When he first appears at the barn, its just to find a safe place to land and to prove his worthiness to the Lady and the other frightened fowl, he has to forge a peace between the grain-and egg-stealing-rats and the chickens that roost in the barn. After he takes care of a few of the rats, they have peace and all the animals get along. I liked the relationship between all the animals and the humans. The animals all talk to each other as well as to Abby and Ben. It is a story of animal rescue, love, support and a reminder that our true family members are not necessarily those we were born to or raised with.
This chapter book is for middle-grade readers, and especially for all those who love and appreciate animals. The author does talk briefly about Whittington killing a couple of rats; there is a dog attack – which the scrappy stray quickly sorts out; a hawk attack which doesn’t end in tragedy; and a brief passage in which Whittington visits the lady-cat up the lane and we find out later he has a couple of kittens by her. If you read it to the younger ones, you may have to edit it a bit, depending on the sophistication of your listeners!