Teddycats, by Mike Storey (July 2016, Razorbill) $16.99, ISBN: 9781101998830
Recommended for ages 9-13
Bill Garra is a Teddycat – a unique jungle-dwelling mammal, living high up in the tallest trees; a community they call the Cloud Kingdom, far away from the other animals in the forest. The Teddycat elders want to keep Cloud Kingdom a secret; to remain separate, to keep outsiders out. Bill doesn’t always understand the rules the elders make; rules like keeping their extra sharp claws hidden unless they need to climb or get out of a life-or-death situation, and he definitely doesn’t understand why he has to keep his friend, Luke, an olingo, out of Cloud Kingdom. When he sneaks Luke into Cloud Kingdom for a look around, the problems seem to begin: predators, including humans, take notice and stalk the Teddycat community. When Bill’s best friend’s sister is trapped and taken by the humans, the Teddycat elders vote to go into hiding, but Bill sets out to rescue her, along with an old frenemy, Omar, a grizzled scout named Diego, a recuperating jaguar named Felix, and Luke. Bill and his group risk banishment from Cloud Kingdom as they face the dangers of the forest.
Wow. Look at this cover. I thought I was going to read a sweet animal adventure when I picked up Teddycats, but what I got was an emotional read about the dangers of deforestation and trophy hunting and a strong subplot about isolationism. Throughout the novel, Bill discovers the downside to the elders’ choice of isolation and the power of teamwork. The big danger here, though, does not come from other animals: it’s the humans, referred to as “Joe” by the Teddycats. They burn, kill, and leave devastation in their wake. They want to sell the Teddycat claws as trinkets, or figure out how to weaponize them, with no regard for the lives they impact. It’s a strong statement, and it may affect some more sensitive readers when animals die. It’s not over the top or gory, but the narrative is matter of fact in stating that these animals are at the mercy of humans and the havoc we wreak.
There are some strong characters in this book. Bill is the self-centered youth who comes of age on his journey; the elders are the frightened old men who are afraid of change; Felix is the wise old cat, and Diego is the grizzled voice of experience. There are more wonderful characters to meet here, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about animals in the forests of the Andes. Yup, I looked it up. I didn’t see “teddycats” specifically listed, but I did find Olingos versus Olinguitos, which were much more recently discovered. I’m making a wild guess here, but I’m relating Olinguitos to Teddycats (since that’s also what came up in an initial Google search on “Teddycat”).
Left: Olingo; Right: Olinguito (images via Google Images)
Grab an atlas to booktalk this story! Explain where the Andes are, talk about some of the residents of the forest that they’ll encounter in the book, and use this opportunity to talk up conservation and preservation of our rain forests, our environment, and the folks we share this world with. Heck, show them the scene from the Spongebob Squarepants movie, when they discover Shell City, and see all the dried starfish and sea life that gets sold as souvenirs!
Talk about movies like Finding Nemo and Happy Feet, that also deal with human impact on the environment, and then talk about all the ways they can help make a difference. Whether it’s writing a letter to a politician, cleaning up after themselves, or being aware of the world around them, they count.
This is a solid animal adventure story with a message; animal fiction fans and kids that are on the lookout for environmentally conscious stories will love it.