Sunday, November 25, 2018


I've been working my way through Eliot Schrefer's Ape Quartet and was surprised to learn that Rescued was set primarily in the United States. I think it was clever to bring the story closer to home for many of his readers, with the intent of creating a relatable character and sympathy for the plight of orangutans. Unfortunately, this novel didn't work for me as well as the first two. 

When he was a child, John's father brought him home Raja, an orangutan from Indonesia. Rash decisions are typical for John's father, who continues to spiral downward throughout the novel, leaving John and his mother to deal with the consequences. The biggest of which is a rapidly growing ape who needs more care than anyone can provide. When John takes it upon himself to do right by Raja, he realizes what a challenge that actually is. 

There were some things I enjoyed about Rescued. I like that this novel talks about animal testing and how many of those animals end up in labs. I also appreciate that Schrefer quickly dispels the idea that it would be fun to have a pet ape (in ways both violent and disgusting). 

I wanted to like it more, but I found this novel to be very dark and the main character to be inherently unlikable. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice; John's father didn't set him up for success, but I couldn't connect to him the way I did with the author's previous protagonists. Still, I will continue reading the series and am curious to see what Schrefer does with his next main character, an actual ape instead of just a person relating to one. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018


I love the idea of this series by Eliot Schrefer: each novel centers around a human's interactions with a great ape. Threatened focuses on chimpanzees, who are far more brutal than the bonobos of Endangered, but I still found myself worrying about them, thanks to their relationship with Luc, our hero.

I'm going to do a GIF review because those are more fun for me right now, and because I am packing up to move to a new country where Elio Schrefer will be the visiting author in my class. So thrilled to learn from him.

This is how I approached the book when I got it through interlibrary loan:


Was there an adjustment to get used to the narrator Luc, a street child who sets out to rob a professor:


How I felt when the professor offers to take Luc into the jungle:

And when something goes wrong:

What I wished Luc would do when the chimps got aggressive:

How I felt about Mango and Drummer, two chimps who align themselves with Luc:

My feelings about the disappearance of one character and the return of another:

Did I like it as much as Endangered?

My overall feeling about the book:

Will I recommend it to students?

Sunday, November 11, 2018


True confession: I don't love animal books. Those that I have read have been through coercion: as part of the curriculum or a student wanted me to read them. I even dove into Endangered by Eliot Shrefer because he will be the visiting author in my class later this year. Thank goodness I did because this was excellent and made me eat my words. After finishing, I immediately added the next three books in the series to my To Be Read list. No wonder it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

For all her life, Sophie's mother has consistently prioritized the bonobo sanctuary she runs in the Congo over her family life, which is why Sophie spends most of the year in Miami with her father. Still, summer is a time for them to connect at the sanctuary, and Sophie's connection grows when she adopts a baby bonobo named Otto. Revolution breaks out in the country and Sophie and Otto are thrust into the jungle, trying to survive and reunite with Sophie's mother.

Endangered was intense; I kept wanting to find out what would happen next and rearranged my schedule to have more reading time.  There was so much to draw me in: the feeling of foreboding that anything could go wrong in the political conflict, the attachment I felt for the human and primate characters, and the pleasure of learning more about bonobos and the Congo. While I learned a lot, the novel never felt overly didactic or preachy. The story wrapped up nicely (with me bracing myself for tragedy until the last page) and I wondered how there could possibly be three more books in the series. Each book is a separate story about a different primate, so I am eager to read and learn more, as well as pepper Eliot Shrefer with questions when he visits our class.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Last Pick

Every teacher has a different way of dealing with inequality and stereotypes. Jason Walz wrote a graphic novel, Last Pick, which posits a world where the characters need to throw off their labels in order to save humanity.

Three years before, an alien invasion removed everyone "of value"-- that is, everyone who wasn't too young, too old or too disabled to be of use for their nefarious plans. Among those left behind are twins Wyatt and Sam, who have to look out for each other. As they begin to look out for others, as well, it draws the ire of the aliens and makes them a target.

Wyatt has some pretty classic characteristics of autism, although it's never stated outright. Still, I love that his traits are what help keep the siblings alive and may save the world in future books. It's unclear to me what made aliens avoid Sam on their first round of abductions. The plot made opportunities for heroism that middle grade readers don't usually encounter; there are quite a few elderly characters with surprising skills that save the day.

This is a quick read--I finished it on a short subway ride--and sets the reader up to want the sequel right away. I'm happy to add a graphic novel that celebrates diversity to my classroom library.