A Boy Called Bat is 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) may seem like no ordinary boy, but he will share characteristics with plenty of other student readers – interests, preferences and frustrations.
Bat would tell you that a baby skunk is called a kit. He’s very precise about these things. In fact, he is 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 Bat must each struggle to adapt to his frustrations.
Bat is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum – although Arnold never says this – and neither does anyone else in Bat’s universe. This brilliant strategy 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 question. Students in fact are likely to recognize that they each have things that are unimportant to others, but are crucially important to them. 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 a 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.
The arrival of the baby skunk drives the plot of A Boy Called Bat. Will Bat be able to keep the skunk? Will the baby skunk help him to make a friend? And 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 sure to encourage understanding and empathy in readers, 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.
And when you’re done, your readers are likely to enjoy the two BAT sequels: Bat and the Waiting Game (a Read to Them title) and Bat and the End of Everything.