I’ve been enjoying all of the books I’ve received from Blue Slip Media, so when she brought up a chapter book to review, Don’t Feed the Boy (affiliate link), I was willing to give it a try, provided she understood we take a long time to go through read-alouds. But, I really wanted to try it because the description she gave me was intriguing.
Synopsis Don’t Feed the Boy:
Whit is a young boy living in the zoo. His parents are both zoo keepers, and he is home-schooled there. His summer project is to study an animal for an extended period of time and write about it. He chooses a young girl he sees come every day by herself. Every day the Bird Girl comes and sits in front of the flamingos and draws them. Whit wants to know, why does she come alone? What is her name? Eventually he approaches her and they become friends. They help each other with problems they have in their lives, and solve big problems they are both facing.
I would solidly place Don’t Feed the boy for grades 5-8. There are some serious subject matter that made Jeff and I a little uncomfortable reading this out loud to our kids (more on this later).
What I loved about Don’t Feed the Boy:
- The main characters felt real, it didn’t feel like carbon copies of other characters.
- They covered hard topics in a real way: Whit was very lonely living at the zoo and being homeschooled. Stella (the Bird Girl) is in an abusive family situation.
- I enjoyed the behind the scenes look at the zoo.
- I enjoyed the characterization of the minor characters. You get to meet a few of Stella’s neighbors and they had interesting quirks.
- The chapters were compelling, I wanted to keep reading (and did read ahead a few times after we were done reading to the kids for the night).
Things to be aware of when reading Don’t Feed the Boy:
- As I mentioned, one of the main subjects of this book is child abuse and a child who feels ignored by his parents.
- Whit does not like being home-schooled. If you’re a homeschooler, it’s something to be aware of.
My overall thoughts
This book isn’t for my kids, and if I’d done the right thing and read it before reading it to them, I would have known that. That being said, I’m already planning a unit for them when they reach 6th grade. At that point they’ll have the emotional maturity to handle discussing where things are wrong and what should be fixed. This book gives a safe place to discuss what to do when you find out your friend is being abused, or you don’t agree with your parents. It handles tough topics, and it does so well.
Whit’s situation isn’t downplayed with the standard “his parents really love him, and they’re trying their best” answer. Instead the fact that he is ignored is brought up as a real problem, and it’s not set aside when Stella’s problem comes to the fore. I really appreciated halfway through the book when Whit said (not an exact quote) “Her pain is real, but that doesn’t make my pain any less real, we both are in bad situations.” All too often, things are brushed aside because the other situation is worse. They didn’t do that, and I appreciated it.
So, can I recommend this book? Yes, I do. There’s nothing inappropriate for the age range I recommended, it does not attempt to sexualize the relationship (which I appreciated), and it tackles tough topics in a great way.
Go pick up Don’t Feed the Boy at Amazon or another bookseller. It’s only in hardback right now, so it’s $11.74, or you can get it on Kindle or Nook for a couple dollars less.
Now, on to what I thought of as I was halfway through reading this:
I committed the cardinal sin of reading to your kids: I didn’t read the book first. If I had, I wouldn’t have read it to them, but I did. So, here’s a few things to think about if your read aloud isn’t working.
It’s not working because the kids aren’t interested
Is this something they need to work through? Should you keep reading because they need to learn the subject, or can you change books? We encountered this once, and we stopped reading it. Other times, they need to know the information, so think of things to help entertain them. Have them draw what’s happening, find an audio book version of it.
It’s not working because the subject matter isn’t appropriate
This is what I ran into with this book, and Jeff and I did a lot of evaluation before continuing reading. We finally decided to finish it with them so they could find out what happened, and see the growth in the characters as the problems resolved. As we read some of our other read alouds the kids have been scared, so we stopped to talk about the situation and reassure them. Talk through what is happening and decide if you should continue with your spouse. Before we finished reading Don’t Feed the Boy to the kids, I made sure there wasn’t going to be any great problems at the end. and then we finished reading it to the kids.