________________CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 2 . . . . September 21, 2001

cover Robyn's Best Idea. (First Novels. The New Series).

Hazel Hutchins. Illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2001.
62 pp., pbk. & cloth, $5.95 (pbk).
ISBN 0-88780-530-2 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88780-531-0 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Cats-Juvenile fiction.
Competition (Psychology)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4


"When did you get a cat?" asked Ari.
"I didn't," I said, setting the cat down. "We can't have cats in our apartment. I'm just letting it go."
"Here?" asked Ari.
"This is where it came from," I said.
"It must be a stray," said Ari. "Poor little cat. I could take it home except my whole family is allergic to cats." His eyes were watering even as he petted it.
"It'll be OK," I said. "It's been around here all fall. It doesn't seem to mind."
As if to prove my point the little cat leapt to a patch of sunlight on the fence and happily began to clean itself.
"It's a really cute cat but if I could have any pet in the world I'd want something else," I said. "Something like a snapping turtle."
"Or an alligator," said Ari.
"Or a Tyrannosaurus Rex!"
We both laughed. Then Ari went home.
I don't think Ari is allowed any pets either.
image Robyn longs for a pet in spite of the 'no pets' rule in her apartment. The cat in the alley would be perfect, but Mom struggles to make ends meet and can't afford to antagonize the landlord. Robyn envies "rich kid" Jessica who brings an iguana to class for "My Life" time. Robyn is hard put to think of something as impressive; she even considers stealing. Finally the urgent need to find a home for the stray cat gives Robyn an idea. She draws a picture of the cat and asks the class for their help to find it a home. Surprising to Robyn, it is Jessica who comes forward.
      Robyn is a credible, likeable character. She may not be as well off as other kids, but she is blessed with a good imagination and strong sense of right and wrong. She lives up to her mom's expectations when left to make her own decision about faking a case of chicken pox. If she can't keep the stray cat herself, she does her best to find it another home. It's Robyn's self-effacing but determined attitude toward the disparities in life that we cheer. The first person, confessional style creates an immediate and close engagement for the reader.
       I like the way the adults are presented in this story. Mom is a sensitive, understanding parent. She doesn't give orders; she gives and asks respect. Her "I'll trust you [Robyn] to do what's right" approach toward the cat and the phoney chicken pox leaves Robyn front and centre to show her own character strengths. Mrs. Kelly, the twins' mom, though a minor character, also respects Robyn's feelings: "We won't be able to come tomorrow...I'm sorry. It seemed important to you."
       The story is well-structured, well paced. Tension is high as Robyn faces the temptation to steal a plastic water snake to impress the class, and when she learns the twins she babysits and planned to take to school as guests are ill. The ending brings the reader satisfaction: Robyn may not get a pet, but she has gained a more positive self-image.


Lorraine Douglas heads Youth Services at the Winnipeg Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364