A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while there's nothing graphic, there are many references to things that teen foster kids might encounter, including drinking and drugs, swearing, and child pornography. Readers will find it easy to empathize with isolated Ted, placed in
foster care after the death of his parents -- and find it easy to root for him as he eventually begins connecting with other people. This book includes elements of magical realism, and teens may enjoy
discussing whether or not they think Ted is really talking to animals.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After Ted's parents are killed in a car accident he enters the foster care system and is placed with the Rafters. There's the husband, a by-the-book ex-military type, and the wife, a little wigged-out since the death of her baby at birth. And there are two other foster kids -- C.W. and Astin. Ted's parents ran a pet shop, and didn't have much time for, or interest in, Ted, but he still misses them and, as he's awkward around other people, he's lonely and isolated. But he does have one solace -- he can talk to animals, and all over town they seem to know him, and are kind and sympathetic. But Astin, a gruff, body-building, motorcycle-riding tough guy, takes an interest in Ted, and helps him connect with other people.
Is it any good?
Though the plot is minimal, STRAYS is absolutely impossible to put down. Ron Koertge accomplishes this mainly with two ingredients. The first is compelling characters -- not just the narrator, Ted, who can talk with animals both real and imaginary, but especially Astin, his older roommate. Astin is every wimp's dream of a friend -- powerful, competent, wise, and mostly kind -- who not only protects Ted but also teaches him how to begin to cope with the world.
The second is the intriguing element of magic realism. Ted's ability to communicate with animals is handled with great subtlety and a very light, offhand touch. It's never really clear whether it's all in Ted's imagination or not, but it adds delightful and very poignant depth to his loneliness and isolation among humans. It's the perfect, lovely touch that raises this novel above the norm, and gives it unusual heart and resonance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the magic realism of the book. Does Ted really talk to animals, or is it all in his head? If it's real, why would he have this ability? If it's not, why would he be imagining this?
Do you think there's any reason for kids from intact families to read about kids like Ted? What might it help these teens learn?
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