Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kid Konnection: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a new middle grade book that warmed my heart.

Summary: In this warmhearted middle-grade novel, Oona and her brother, Fred, love their cat Zook (short for Zucchini), but Zook is sick. As they conspire to break him out of the vet’s office, convinced he can only get better at home with them, Oona tells Fred the story of Zook’s previous lives, ranging in style from fairy tale to grand epic to slice of life. Each of Zook’s lives has echoes in Oona’s own family life, which is going through a transition she’s not yet ready to face. Her father died two years ago, and her mother has started a relationship with a man named Dylan—whom Oona secretly calls “the villain.” The truth about Dylan, and about Zook’s medical condition, drives the drama in this loving family story. -- Amulet Books

THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK by Joanne Rocklin is one of those books that falls right between the reading levels of my children. It's on the very young side of middle grade fiction, so I don't think it would appeal to Booking Daughter anymore; however, Booking Son (who is 7 years old) isn't quite ready for a chapter book that is this long -- it's over 250 pages. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm the only one in our house that read THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, and you'll just have to take my word on what a delightful novel this was. Or, you can trust Booklist which gave THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK a starred review!

THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK tells the story of Oona, her younger brother Fred, and her cat Zook (short for Zucchini) who is very sick. Oona has been through a lot in her ten years, including the death of her father; and now she's having to deal with her sick pet and her mother's new boyfriend. Oona is an amazing girl, albeit sometimes a little too bold for her own good, and she does everything within her power to protect Fred and Zook. As a way to help cope with Zook's illness, Oona tells Fred that cats have nine lives and Zook is only on her fifth. She creates imaginative stories about Zook's other lives which include Jewel The Ghost Cat and Mud who fought a monster; and she assures Fred that Zook will be fine -- he has four more lives. Can you see where this story is going?

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the depth of this story and especially Oona's character. Oona is a wonderful narrator to this story, and I loved so many of her insights into life and namely stories. She truly understands the power of all types of words, and she even recognizes the different degrees of storytelling. (She has even named her "whoppers" with different colors based on their severity!)

Oona realizes at a very early age that imagination and stories are wonderful things, and she also uses stories to help her brother (and herself) through difficult times. At the beginning of the novel, she does her best to keep her father's stories alive; however, as Oona becomes a better storyteller, she begins creating her own stories and incorporating little things from her life into the characters and their actions. She also discovers that it is often times more painful to keep some stories to herself rather than sharing with others; and that stories help her to figure out who she really is.

Overall, I thought THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK was an entertaining middle grade story; however, I think I most appreciated its messages. Throughout this novel, the author shows the power of imagination and storytelling; and specifically through Oona, she demonstrates how stories can help heal and make life more bearable. There is no doubt that Oona has gone through some very difficult times in her short life, but she is able to better cope with the help of her creativity and memories.

I can totally see THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK being a great selection for a mother-daughter book club or even a classroom lesson. There is a free activity kit with discussion questions that will give you an idea of just how complex this story really is. In addition, there are some fun word puzzles and other suggested activities that relate to the novel. There is also a fried zucchini recipe, a worksheet about "whoppers," and a sheet about discovering your lineage. Some of the topics you might want to explore include grief, loss, lies, secrets, change, parent/child relationships, pets, and the power of stories. I think this novel is a great one to get children thinking and talking about so many relevant issues that they will face over and over again in their lives.

I enjoyed THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK and think it's a great middle grade story! Highly recommended for late elementary age kids.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Beth F said...

I know my niece would have loved this when she was a middle-grade reader. Sounds like an awesome book club pick or an opportunity for some parent-child time.

Laura Fabiani said...

Sounds like a delightful book especially for kids who love cats.

bermudaonion said...

It does sound like Oona has had things rough so I can see why Zook is so important to her. This book sounds charming.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love books about the importance of stories!

Joanne Rocklin said...

Julie, thanks so very much for this lovely, insightful review of my book! Happy reading to you and yours.