The School for Talking Pets (Kelli Anne Hawkins, illus by Beth Harvey, HarperCollins)
With her debut middle grade novel, The School for Talking Pets, Kelli Anne Hawkins brings us a delightful tale that is reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Rusty Mulligan is quiet and shy, but when the world finds out about Alice Einstein’s School for Talking Pets he jumps at the chance to enrol his best friend, Bongo the blue-tongue lizard. Rusty’s 25-word application is successful and they become one of five child-and-pet duos chosen to visit the mysterious school. Already worried that he and Bongo won’t live up to expectations among the talented cohort, Rusty soon realises that the animal idyll is under threat from a powerful cabal of global elites. While the length of the novel may daunt less confident readers, Hawkins’s prose is clean and simple, and Beth Harvey’s illustrations add detail and genuine warmth to certain moments and plot points. Due to the large cast, many of the book’s characters feel cartoonish; however, I can easily imagine a digital animation studio making a lovely movie or series out of Rusty’s gentle journey from fear to self-belief. Animal lovers aged 8–12 will enjoy this fun-filled romp.
Annie Waters sells books, writes about books and podcasts about books.