There are fictional characters so vividly portrayed, they became a part of the here and now. They remind you of the diverse nature of human characteristics. They remind you we all have struggles; some more visible than others. They remind you to put your best self forward whenever you can because we need each other. We are here to make every day better than the previous day.
On March 14, 2017 readers met a character named Bat, short for Bixby Alexander Tam, in the first book of a trilogy titled A Boy Called BAT (Walden Pond Press) written by Elana K. Arnold with illustrations by Charles Santoso. It was and still is unthinkable to not feel affection for this boy, his family and his friends. Every chapter pulled (pulls) us deeper into his world.
One year later on March 27, 2018 Bat and the Waiting Game (Walden Pond Press) continues the story of this irresistible child and his best animal friend, a skunk kit called Thor. In this book Bat has to navigate big changes in his normal routine. His sister, Janie, has won a part in the school play.
Her practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays mean Bat can't stay at home alone which translates into less time with Thor AND he must go to his friend's house after school. Bat really does like Israel, but this new place is an adjustment for him. Strengthening the boys' friendship is a school project. They are building and planting a vegetable garden for Thor.
At the center of Bat's world is his relationship with Thor. The skunk helps him deepen ties with his family and friends, figuring out challenges through comparisons. As the night of the musical gets closer Bat can hardly tolerate any more waiting for everything to go back to the way it was before Janie got the part. An unexpected turn of events has disastrous results, but support of friends and family help Bat find a perfect silver lining. Here are a couple of passage from this second title.
Bat liked it when he could concentrate on just one thing, and he liked it even better when the one thing he was concentrating on was something he loved, like taking care of Thor.
With his thumb, Bat gently stroked the white strip of fur that ran up Thor's snout and over his head. Thor closed his shiny black eyes and it looked to Bat like he grinned, short milky whisker hairs curving upward.
Bat had never been in such an interesting vehicle. Mom drove a perfectly average station wagon, and Dad had an uncomfortable tight sports car, with a hump in the middle of the back instead of a seat.
Israel's dad's truck was totally different. It was like seeing a Great Dane after a lifetime of Chihuahuas. It was the ostrich of the car world: impressively large. (This comparison further illustrates Bat's love of animals.)
"I give up," Bat said. "What's your favorite thing about baseball?"
"It's this," Dad said, relaxing in his seat and putting his arm around Bat's shoulders again. "This, right here. Sitting next to someone I love, having a snack and something to drink, enjoying the outside air together. Spending time together. Being with you."
Bat could point out to Dad that they could do most of these things back at the apartment, or at the park. It didn't have to be at a baseball game. Technically, Dad's argument was flawed. But instead of pointing this out, Bat paid attention to the warmth and weight of Dad's arm across his shoulders. He pinched off some cotton candy and popped it into his mouth, enjoying the way it changed from fluff into melting sweetness. He looked out across the field, not trying to keep track of the players or the score. Instead he tried to melt a little, like the cotton candy, and just be happy to be right there at the game with his dad.
Another year has passed. Bat and the End of Everything (Walden Pond Press, March 26, 2019) written by Elana K. Arnold with illustrations by Charles Santoso begins with uncertainty for Bat and for readers. Thor is growing and thriving under Bat's care. The time to release him back into the wild is growing nearer.
How do you say good-bye to a friend?
That's what Bixby Alexander Tam (known to everyone as Bat) was thinking about, sitting with Babycakes, the class rabbit, in the pen at the back of Mr. Grayson's class. It was the first Monday in June. In four days, the school year would end, and Bat would have to say good-bye.
Third grade will be finished. Babycakes will no longer be his classroom pet. Babycakes will be staying with another classmate for the summer. Bat's best friend, Israel, is going to Canada for weeks to stay with a cousin. Everything certain in Bat's world is changing. The unknown makes him very anxious. Every time anyone mentions Thor going to live in the wild, Bat changes the thread of the conversation. As Thor grows so does the dread in Bat's heart.
On the last day of school, Bat's dad picks him up and Janie at her school. It's an Every-Other-Friday which means they spend the weekend with their dad. As if there aren't enough shifts in Bat's life, his dad has a surprise which upsets Janie and puzzles Bat.
Once summer vacation starts, Bat is spending the days with his mother at her vet clinic and working with her assistant, Laurence. Bat is thrilled with this arrangement. He gets to work with animals and have Thor close to him all day.
As the summer progresses there is a bit of alarm with Babycakes and her caregiver, a revealing talk with Janie, Bat and their dad, unexpected generosity by Janie, a first on mail day and a hard day for Bat which further endears readers to the bond between this boy and the skunk. Chapter by chapter a gentle tension grows as we know Bat is going to have to part with Thor. At the close of the last chapter in this book, and of the trilogy, readers will be totally and emotionally moved.
With Elana K. Arnold's writing readers are drawn to her stories and their characters. Her use of language paints pictures as realistic as a photograph. Her understanding of human nature, friendship, family dynamics, the bonds we develop with animals and of a child on the autism spectrum is what connects us to this story. The conversations between the characters and Bat's thought processes are remarkable. Here are a few passages.
Whether he liked it or not, summer was coming. The warm weather, the end of school, even how big Thor was getting---all of it meant that summer was pretty much here already. And there was nothing Bat could do to stop it.
He couldn't make time slow down. He couldn't make Thor stay small. Sitting in the back of Mom's station wagon, being driven home, Bat felt uncomfortably aware of how many things were out of his control.
"What would you like to eat for dinner?" Mom asked. She turned on her blinker and steered them down Plum Lane, their street, toward their house in the middle of the block.
"Macaroni and cheese," Bat said decisively. "And cupcakes for dessert."
"Okay," Mom said. "Maybe you and Janie can make the cupcakes while I work on the macaroni and cheese."
Bat nodded. He felt better. He wished everything was as easy to figure out as what to have for dinner.
"When I grow up and become a vet," Bat said, "maybe we could both work here. And we could put a second hook on the wall, and we could hang our coats next to each other's, and it wouldn't matter who wore which coat, because we would both be Dr. Tam, DVM."
Mom's fingers were buttoning her coat, but they stopped when Bat spoke. She reached over and put a hand gently on top of his head, a warm soft weight that Bat liked. "There's nothing that would make me happier," she said.
Bat had his mom's warm hand on his head, and Thor's carrier in his hand, and a whole day of helping at the vet clinic in front of him. He took a deep breath of lavender-peppermint, and he felt wonderful.
For this post I'm working with an ARC but nevertheless, the illustrations in black and white by Charles Santoso throughout the title further engage readers in the story, and to Bat, Thor and the other characters. Each image coincides with memorable moments in the narrative. The facial expressions on the characters, particularly their eyes, convey moods and emotions candidly. Most of them are smaller but there are several full-page pictures.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of Bat and Thor after Bat has a particularly hard day. Exhausted Bat holds Thor in his arm as he curls up on his side on his bed. Tears start to fall, and Thor gently licks them from Bat's face. They fall asleep together. This is the picture Charles Santoso draws for us. I nearly started to cry at the tenderness depicted.
This book, Bat and the End of Everything written by Elana K. Arnold with pictures by Charles Santoso, is a beautiful story of a boy and his beloved skunk. It's a portrait of love; the love of a child for an animal and the love of others for this child and his skunk. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Elana K. Arnold and Charles Santoso and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Elana K. Arnold has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. Charles Santoso has accounts on Instagram and Twitter. At the publisher's website you can read a sample. Here is a link to an extensive educator's guide.
Elana K. Arnold is the author of
books for middle-grade readers and
teens. Her middle grade titles include
A Boy Called Bat, A 2018 Global Read
Aloud Book and Bat and the Waiting
Game. Her teen titles include
Damsel, a 2019 Michael L.
Printz Honor Book and What
Girls Are Made Of, a National
Book Award and California
Book Award Finalist.
BLOG TOUR STOPS
Nerdy Book Club----------------------------March 26
Kirsti Call------------------------------------March 27
Read Now Sleep Later----------------------March 30
Bluestocking Thinking----------------------April 1
The Book Monsters--------------------------April 2
Educate*Empower* Inspire* . . .Teach---April 3
Librarian's Quest----------------------------April 4
Lit Couch Lou--------------------------------April 5