A Boy Called Bat
For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.
But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.
Skunks as pets
Bat's mom is a busy veterinarian who still devotes plenty of time to taking care of Bat and his older sister Janie. When she brings home a newborn skunk whose mother was killed in a car accident, Bat takes an immediate liking to the animal. Bat has his own challenges-- he is on the autism spectrum and doesn't like loud noises or bad smells. It is often difficult for him to read people's emotions, and he struggles to remember all of the polite words he is supposed to use. Spending every other weekend at his father's is hard, too, because his mother is not there and everything is different. Bat is very interested in animals, having spent a lot of time at his mother's practice, and he slowly shares this love with another boy at school, Israel, and starts to become friends with him. Skunks make poor pets, but Bat hopes that his family can raise Thor until it is time to release him into the wild.
This is an excellent introduction to a character on the autism spectrum for elementary students. Bat is a little more quirky than most third graders, but is portrayed in a sympathetic way that will help young readers understand that it's okay when their classmates aren't exactly like them. Bat's interest in the skunk is far more interesting than his autism, but the intersection of these two facets does a good job of showing his difficulties in making friends with Israel.
There is a lot of information about how to care for baby skunks, but I appreciated that Bat knows that he won't be able to keep the animal once it is older. The character of Dr. Dragoo, the skunk expert, is a real person, and he does not think it is a good idea for skunks to be household pets. Still, many young people are curious about wild animal babies, and this book strikes a nice balance when it comes to wanting to have a pet versus not being able to keep the animal forever.
Arnold, who also wrote Far From Fair, does a good job at portraying tough situations in a hopeful way. Hand this to young readers who enjoy Linda Urban's Weekends with Max and His Dad, Harley's Charlie Bumpers series, or Meyerhoff's Friendship Garden series. While a bit young for middle school, this is an necessary purchase for elementary readers.