A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in The Zoo at the Edge of the World, 12-year-old Marlin converses with the animals in his father's zoo as he tries to protect his loved ones and struggles to do the right thing. There's enough violence and other darkness here to be upsetting to sensitive readers, with lots of bullying, a father throwing his son in a cage, and a difficult scene involving a snake and a cute baby animal.
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What's the story?
In a fictional, 19th-century British Guiana, 12-year-old Marlin is the younger son of world-famous adventurer Rohan Rackham. Bullied by his older brother and overwhelmed by his father, Marlin's a stutterer whose only friend is his pet monkey. As the story opens, a boatload of rich, snobbish Victorian tourists has arrived at THE ZOO AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, the Rackham family business, in which indigenous animals are caged for the benefit of gawking visitors. Things change dramatically when a newly captured jaguar gives Marlin the ability to converse with the animals; soon he's dodging dangers and trying to save innocents as the truth -- or at least a different perspective -- behind everything he knows comes to light.
Is it any good?
The Bully Book author Eric Kahn Gale returns with a heartfelt, uneven book that may try to do too much. It's a coming-of-age tale of a stuttering kid overshadowed by a larger-than-life parent and a bullying brother, now forced to question everything he thought was true; the toxic legacy of colonialism; the ethics of exploiting animals for human gain, whether for greed or "the greater good"; and -- oh, yeah -- a bit of first love with an aristocratic girl whose parents definitely have other ideas for her. Parts of the story are almost painfully compelling, whereas others feel like a slapdash attempt to connect an assortment of themes. Many kids will relate to Marlin's struggles to protect his loved ones while rising above his disability and his toxic family and cheer him on as he finds courage to do the right thing. Animal-loving kids may find some scenes involving cute, vulnerable, doomed critters especially upsetting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how good intentions (such as Marlin's father's plan to "save" the jungle) can turn out really badly, and a noble goal can lead to terrible behavior. How might you keep this from happening if you were trying to accomplish something?
Why do you think stories about being able to talk with animals are so popular? How is The Zoo at the Edge of the World similar to other such tales you know? How is it different?
Does this story make you want to learn more about the colonial era in South America?
- Author: Eric Kahn Gale
- Illustrator: Matthew Howley
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: August 26, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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