This month’s theme for @littlelitbookseries is #diversity. We’re featuring books with characters from all walks of life. My selection is Elana K. Arnold’s A BOY CALLED BAT, a touching story of a boy who loves animals and his quest to prove that he has what it takes to care for a skunk.
“Bat realized he didn’t know a lot about skunks. He knew they spayed a stinky smell to protect themselves, and he knew they were mammals, and he knew they were omnivores because they ate bugs and smaller animals and plants, too…He decided to learn everything about skunks.”
Bat, short for Bixby Alexander Tam, is a boy who, his mother says, has “an interesting way of the seeing the world.” Bat loves vanilla yogurt, braiding his sister’s hair, and above all, animals. His veterinarian mom brings home an orphaned baby skunk that changes Bat and the family. A skunk might seem like an unusual pet, but Bat sets out on a mission to convince his family otherwise. With the help of his teacher, Bat contacts world renowned skunk expert, Dr. Jerry Dragoo, to help build his case to keep the kit. Dr. Dragoo responds to Bat’s request, and Bat’s mother weighs all of the evidence, including Bat’s commitment and determination, to make a decision on whether or not to contact animal control. Captivating spot illustrations by Charles Santoso come together with Arnold’s strong characterization in this compelling read. Not only does the reader experience through Bat’s eyes what daily life might be like for someone on the autism spectrum, but we also see how friends and family interact and react differently to the challenges. We see acceptance from a friend, sibling squabbles no different than in any other family, the disconnectedness of one parent, and the investment of another. We witness a collection of moments, marked with friction, frustration, and confusion, but also tenderness and even connection.
There are many tearjerking moments in the book including a dinnertime conversation — a miscommunication — among Bat, his sister, Janie, and his mom:
“Suddenly Bat wished that he’d been wearing his earmuffs and that he hadn’t even heard Mom and Janie talking about the play. Sometimes it was just better if Bat just kept his thoughts to himself” (123).
Another poignant moment is between mother and son when Thor, the baby skunk, opens his eyes.
Finally, another favorite scene is at the candy store: the description of the layout and organization of the candies, and Bat’s confusion of his sister’s “mishmashed” bag of candy.
It’s been a while since a book has left tears in my eyes. Perhaps it’s the fact that autism hits close to home as a teacher of students with special needs, but also it’s result of a beautiful collaboration of artists. Arnold and Santuso have something special here.