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Middle-school librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan prove that two heads are better than one when it comes to discussing YA and children's books

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Friday, January 18, 2013 11:44 am
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan

Lynn:  There are times when I want to bang my head against the wall and shriek, “Why didn’t I read this sooner?”  I had Endangered (Scholastic 2012) for many months and somehow had never quite gotten around to it.  I knew I should too – there was something about the premise that just shouted “READ ME!”  Well, I can only exhort Bookends readers not to make my mistake.  This is a book that deserves attention and not only because it was a finalist for the NBA.  Let me count the ways!  First this is a compelling and absorbing story that grabs hold from the first page and never lets go.  14-year-old Sophie is returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo to spend the summer with her mother on the bonobo ape sanctuary she runs.  On her way from the airport, Sophie sees a man dragging an infant bonobo who is clearly in distress.  Going against sanctuary policy, Sophie buys the infant, an action that bears serious fruit later.  Sophie’s mom is very unhappy with her actions but allows Otto to stay, charging Sophie with his care.  Sophie has barely settled in when her mother leaves to take other bonobos to a remote release site and then a revolution breaks out and the country descends into chaos.  A horrific series of events follows and Sophie finds herself and Otto on the run in incredible danger.  See if YOU can put this down for anything short of bathroom and food breaks!

Secondly, this is a curriculum connection treasure.  It is extremely difficult to find books for teens about Africa as accurately written as this one.  Schrefer has done a noble job of portraying a clear-eyed view of the people, the animals, the history and conditions affecting them all.  He presents some truly thorny ethical dilemmas in a very child-centered way, opening the door to wide-ranging classroom discussions and serious pondering.

Third is the introduction of the bonobo ape, an animal little known to many of us but of great importance for many reasons including its close link to humans and its unique and fascinating culture.  And related to them is the absorbing question of how best to preserve and protect them in such a place, both ethically and scientifically.

Have I convinced you to drop everything and read this?  There is more but I’ll stop and simply say that this is a book that has lived in my head ever since I read it and it will be there for a long time to come.

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