“Whoppers are lies plain and simple. Some whoppers are worse than
other whoppers, and those are nothing to be proud of. But some whoppers are stories.” Oona’s a whopper teller extraordinaire. Continuing in the tradition of her deceased dad, she concocts tales to soothe, to inspire, or to entertain her five-year-old brother Fred. It’s a particularly useful skill to hone, now that the siblings are anxious about their beloved, ailing cat Zook (short for “zucchini,” a favorite fried snack they used to lure the stray cat).
As with her charming One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (reviewed here), Joanne Rocklin has again crafted an engaging novel with authentic characters, a nurturing and diverse neighborhood, and a well-paced plot with just enough conflict to keep readers panting for more.
Perhaps most refreshing about The Five Lives of our Cat Zook is the narrator’s vibrant voice. Ten-year-old Oona, with her keen observation skills, her big, believable emotions; and her robust imagination, will win over many a reader. Those same qualities drive the plot, as they get her in and out of trouble and often result in humorous predicaments.
Oona’s a devoted big sister, using rebuses to teach Fred to read. Building on the whopper that their sick cat is just on his fifth life, she takes her brother to the land of Rebusina, where he hears of Zook’s previous lives. This way, she figures, if Zook doesn’t survive, her brother will think he’ll simply return.
But some whoppers, especially the one involving Zook’s true owner, come back to complicate Oona’s life. Oona begins to realize her imagination can work for good or not-so-good. Her outlandish scheme to kidnap Zook from the vet backfires. Then she has to reconsider her assessment of the guy across the street who’s been paying so much attention to Mom. Is Dylan not a villain after all? Can he be the key to nursing Zook back to health?
This tender novel about relationships, trust, and coping with loss will be wonderful to read aloud to children ages 7 to 10 (as well as a great independent read for ages 9 to 12). For inspiration on how to expand on the reading/listening experience, check out Rocklin’s fine activity kit.
I’M OFFERING a FREE hardback copy of THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK to one random U.S. reader who either posts the link to this review on Facebook, tweets it, or becomes a subscriber to my blog. Deadline: JUNE 1. Leave a comment and let me know you’re entering, and I’ll contact the winner on June 2. Good luck!