It’s not easy being an elementary school librarian when you tend to avoid fiction books with animals on the covers. (I’m forever scarred from reading Old Yeller as a child.) It’s especially difficult when your state book award program has a few animal books on the lists every year. Such is life.
Well, this week, I turned my attention to one of the animal books I have to read. Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes, a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, appears to be a “cat book” at first glance. (See cover below.) Cats (and dogs) do play a big part in this book, but they are not the central characters, in my opinion. No, that honor goes to Gaby Howard, a young girl who, like the animals she cares for, is looking for some sense of home.
The past few months have not been easy for Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother has been deported to Honduras, her distant father has moved into the house and often forgets to pay bills or go grocery shopping, and mean girls at school ridicule her because of her mom’s situation. Gaby just wants her mom to return and for things to go back to normal. She’s tired of going hungry and worrying about the future. Gaby waits for the day her mom will come back and they can be happy again, but the wait is getting to her.
Gaby’s life is not all bad, though. She has loyal friends, and she’s excited about her sixth grade class’ new service project–volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter.
Gaby loves her work at the animal shelter. She dotes on the sweet kittens, plays with the dogs, and writes profiles of the animals to convince people to adopt these lovable pets. Her profiles, paired with pictures of the animals, are posted around the community, and Gaby is thrilled that people are reading them and coming into the shelter to give the animals forever homes.
There’s one cat at the shelter who Gaby would love to have for her own. The cat, Feather, was abandoned by her previous owners, and Gaby feels a certain kinship with the little cat. She knows what it’s like to be left alone and wondering if she’ll ever feel truly safe and loved again. If only Gaby could adopt Feather and give her the home that she deserves…
As the days pass, worries about Feather’s future and her mom’s return plague Gaby. Her worries are affecting her friendships, her work at the shelter, and Gaby is doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. And when she receives news that derails all of her thoughts of a happy family, Gaby doesn’t know what to do. She feels so lost…
But maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Gaby. Maybe she and Feather can somehow find forever homes of their very own…
I liked Gaby, Lost and Found much more than I thought I would. I even teared up a little bit. (Okay, a lot.) I’m not much of an animal person, but this book almost convinced me to take a trip to the animal shelter in my town. (Almost. I can barely take care of myself. I would not be a good pet owner.)
Gaby’s class service project was pretty awesome, and I can see how this book could inspire school groups to do some work at animal shelters in their own towns. I especially liked the profiles Gaby wrote for the animals. What a great way to combine service learning with creative writing!
I do thing Gaby, Lost and Found fills a void in a lot of libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. First, it features an Hispanic American female protagonist. That’s a big reason to celebrate this book, but it also deals with the subject of deportation and its impact on families.
We don’t often see stories about deportation, especially accounts of the children left behind. Sure, we see cases on the news of raids in factories or calls from politicians to round up those living and working in America illegally, but we don’t see what happens after that. This book gives just a small glimpse into what happened in one girl’s life–how her sense of home and family was taken away, how her life became one big worry after another, and how she had to face growing up without her mother. I think this is an important topic for young readers to consider. More importantly, though, I’d urge teachers and parents to read this book with children and try to examine attitudes about immigration, deportation, and the turmoil that can result in the families affected by it. It’s not a black and white issue, no matter how it’s portrayed in the media. *steps off soapbox*
I think Gaby, Lost and Found is great for readers in third grade on up, and I plan to recommend it to many of my students when I return to school next month. Even though it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, this book demonstrates the resilience of one young girl and shows readers that they can find happiness even when things don’t go their way.