Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Review: Zucchini by Barbara Dana (1982)

Zucchini, a ferret who lives in the rodent house at the Bronx Zoo, is convinced there must be more to the world than what he can see from his cage. When he sees an opportunity to escape, he takes it, hoping to make it to Oklahoma, where creatures like him live together in the wild. When he runs into danger on the streets, however, he is rescued and brought instead to the children's zoo at the local ASPCA. Here he meets Billy, a shy boy who longs for a pet but lives in a pet-free building. Billy comes each day to see Zucchini, and the two form a strong bond which draws Billy out of his shell and gives Zucchini the feeling of belonging he so desires.

I typically don't enjoy animal stories, especially when they are told from the animal's point of view, but I made an exception for this book because one of my reading challenges requires a book for each letter of the alphabet and Z is a tricky letter.  For the most part, though the subject matter was not my favorite, I thought the writing was strong, and in some sections, exceptional. There were a few things that didn't work for me, such as the fact that, despite not knowing his name upon his arrival, the zoo at the ASPCA still comes to call him Zucchini. Overall, though, I did not find the story as much of a chore to read as I expected.

Though this book is over 30 years old, it didn't really feel dated in any way. Billy is a realistic and believable child protagonist, and though his relationship with Zucchini feels contrived, it is the type of thing that appeals to kids who are ardent animal lovers, regardless of how old the book is. This book is out of print, but it is available on Open Library, and I would consider having my girls read it when they get older, provided they haven't inherited my distaste for animal books. It's not Newbery-quality literature, but it is still a worthwhile book to read for pleasure. (There is also a sequel, Zucchini Out West, which does not seem to be available to read online, but which has a laughably awkward cover.)

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