Wildoak by C. C. Harrington

Wildoak by C. C. Harrington, drawings by Diana Sudyka. Scholastic Press, 2022. 9781338803860

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre:  Historical fiction

What did you like about the book? Maggie is so afflicted by stuttering that she stabs herself with a pencil one day in class to avoid speaking. Her parents decide to send her to an institution, which has a reputation for terrible cruelty. Don’t they know this? Maggie has no problem speaking fluently to the pets she keeps in a cupboard – a mouse, a turtledove, snails, several roly-polies and a spider. In the end, a reprieve in the countryside with her grandfather is decided upon, and if she doesn’t improve, then it’s off to Granville. Her grandfather, Fred, is a kindly doctor, and Maggie has lots of freedom to explore Wildoak Forest nearby. It is there that she discovers an abandoned snow leopard. Caring for Rumpus becomes her secret joy, but when villagers plan to raze the forest for development, what will happen to her beloved snow leopard friend?

Set in the Cornish countryside in 1963, this is lovely exploration of the loneliness of a speech impediment, little understood at the time, and of the passion of protecting animals and ecosystems from overdevelopment. The story is told in dual viewpoints, by Maggie, who is a caring, passionate girl of eleven, and Rumpus, the snow leopard cub left to defend himself in the forest. It was fascinating to learn of the practice of selling exotic animals as pets at department stores, and the fate of one such animal. And it was heartbreaking to see how little society could empathize or help with a speech disability. Readers will love the portrayal of the quaint English village and the lovely descriptions of Maggie’s burgeoning love of the natural world. Indeed, this book lovingly shows us the “fragility and interc-c-connectedness of all things,” as Maggie tells an audience 60 years later. She may not have completely conquered her stutter, but she was able to change lives as a scientist.

Black and white woodcut-like art is a wonderful complement to the text. Back matter includes stellar material on trees and reforestation worldwide, conservation of big cats, and the science of stuttering, all with resources cited.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book? Hand this to readers who like novels about kids dealing with disabilities such as Wink by Rob Harrell, or who love reading about animal protection. For ages 10-14.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: January 31, 2023

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, C. C. Harrington, Cats, Diana Sudyka, Disabilities, Forests, Historical fiction, Realistic fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.