A Boy Called BAT is gentle, sly novel by Elana K. Arnold. It’s a sweet story about a boy who wants to care for a baby skunk, a novel that will sneak up on student and adult readers alike. Bixby Alexander Tam (BAT) is no ordinary boy…or is he in fact not unlike plenty of other student readers who may discover they share some of the same frustrations he does?
BAT would tell you that a baby skunk is called a kit. He’s very precise about these things. He’s precise about a lot of things. Writing in the first person, BAT will tell you what he likes and what he doesn’t – in regular, consistent, sometimes infuriating detail.
And those around them must each struggle to adapt to BAT’s frustrations…
BAT is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum – although Arnold never says this – and neither does anyone else in BAT’s universe. This is a brilliant strategy. It makes A Boy Called BAT a fine exemplar of the art of showing not telling. Student readers must figure out for themselves why BAT gets so frustrated at simple things like the wrong yogurt flavor or an imprecisely phrased questions. Students in fact are likely to recognize that they each have things like this that bother them – it’s just that somehow they often bother BAT more. There’s a little bit of BAT in each of us.
BAT lives with his sister, Janie, and his mother, who is a veterinarian. Every other weekend he stays with his Dad. BAT often has trouble with people – Janie teases him for not having any friends – and as result BAT finds comfort in animals. He loves animals, loves reading about them in animal encyclopedias, and loves caring for them. So when his mother brings home a recently orphaned skunk kit, BAT is in animal care heaven.
This simple premise drives the plot of A Boy Called BAT – will BAT be able to keep the skunk?; will he be able to make a friend? – but spending time seeing the world through BAT’s eyes makes this a fine, subtle novel worth reading and sharing. Readers will all want BAT to learn and grow. Rooting for BAT is likely to make each reader a little more tolerant and understanding – which is Arnold’s true accomplishment.
A little novel rendered this well, which shows but doesn’t tell, is all the more effective at teaching us how to be perceptive, patient, and tolerant.
[Don’t forget to share the first sequel, too: Bat and the Waiting Game.]