A Boy Called Bat

Publication Date: March 14, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

A 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection

From acclaimed author Elana K. Arnold and with illustrations by Charles Santoso, A Boy Called Bat is the first book in a funny, heartfelt, and irresistible young middle grade series starring an unforgettable young boy on the autism spectrum.

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

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  • When Bat’s veterinarian mother brings home an infant skunk to foster for a month, Bat—a third grader on the autism spectrum—hopes to prove that he’s responsible enough to keep the skunk, Thor, as a pet. Written in third person, this engaging and insightful story makes readers intimately aware of what Bat is thinking and how he perceives the events and people in his life. With empathy and humor, Arnold (Far from Fair) delves into Bat’s relationships with his divorced parents, older sister, teachers, and classmates. In one tender scene, Bat braids his sister’s hair: “Getting along with people was hard for Bat. Figuring out what they meant when they said something, or when they made certain faces at him… People were complicated. But braiding was easy.” Bat’s supportive family and school encourage his strategies for navigating a confusing world, and Santoso’s b&w spot illustrations quietly speak to his isolation, as well as the way he takes to Thor. A budding friendship and open-ended questions about Thor’s future will spark anticipation for the next book in this planned series. (Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review)

  • Third-grader Bixby Alexander Tam doesn’t really mind his nickname Bat, even if it might come from not just from his initials but from the fact that he flaps his hands when he’s feeling overwhelmed and he’s supersensitive to sound. A bat is an animal, after all, and animals are Bat’s very favorite thing, so much so that when his veterinarian mom brings home an orphaned baby skunk Bat jumps at the chance to care for it. Now he just has to convince his mom that Thor would be better off under Bat’s care than with the staff at the wildlife refuge center. The word “autistic” is never used here, and its absence is effective: Bat’s tendencies are treated as characteristic and not diagnostic, and Arnold seamlessly weaves in Bat’s and his family’s adaptations to his behaviors. The situation brings plenty of humor: if you’re looking to keep a skunk as a pet, of course you’re going to email a renowned skunk expert named (real-life biologist Dr. Jerry Dragoo) to ask him to tell your mom it’s totally cool for you to have a skunk pet. Compassionate, warm, and funny, Bat’s story may leave some kids eyeing the forest for their next animal pal. Chipper monochromatic black and white illustrations bring out the appeal of both skunk and boy.  (Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books)

  • A third-grader becomes fascinated with an orphaned skunk kit and wages a campaign to convince his veterinarian mom that their family should care for the animal until it can be released to the wild.

    Bixby Alexander Tam is known as Bat. In many ways his experiences are quite ordinary. He squabbles with his older sister and navigates the complications of his parents’ divorce. He doesn’t always like following school rules, and he loves animals. Arnold’s sensitive but matter-of-fact description of some of Bat’s behaviors, however, make it clear that he isn’t entirely neurotypical. When he’s nervous he repeats certain actions, like sucking on his shirt or flapping his hands. His mom notes that he has difficulty with eye contact, and a prospective friend has to work hard to connect with him. These details, along with others about family members and his multicultural classmates, bring the characters to life and contribute to the lively and engaging plot. The decision not to use labels to classify any of the characters (except the skunk, which Bat notes belongs to the family Mephitidae) encourages all readers to enjoy and connect with the events and emotions that ring true for them. In Santoso’s appealing illustrations, Bat and his sister share their dad’s dark, straight hair; the whole family has fair skin.

    Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.  (Kirkus)

  • Bixby Alexander Tam, or Bat, has autism. He has a high need for structure; anything out of the ordinary causes him anxiety. When his mother, a vet, is late coming home from work one day, Bat is panicked. His mother explains she has a good reason, and tells him about the baby skunk she has brought home. The mother skunk did not survive a car accident, but Bat’s mom was able to save the kit, and they will raise him at home for a month until he is old enough to be released to a wild animal shelter. Bat, who wants to be a vet himself someday, is fascinated by the kit, named Thor by his sister. Feeling that no one will be able to care for Thor as well as he can, Bat tries to find a way to convince his mother to keep the kit as a pet. This tender novel starts out slowly, focusing on Bat’s frequent frustration. Arnold shows more than tells, crafting a nuanced character. Readers learn that Bat goes to a school that values his uniqueness and works with him on interpersonal dynamics like developing an awareness of other people’s feelings, empathy, and friendship. Midway through the book, the pacing picks up. Bat’s relationships with his teacher and a vet at his mother’s clinic are particularly enjoyable and add humor to the novel. Santoso’s illustrations, appearing about once a chapter, add warmth. Short chapters and a straightforward plot make this a good candidate for reluctant readers. VERDICT The challenges faced by kids like Bat are often underrepresented in children’s literature; this is a refreshing depiction. Readers will appreciate this funny and thoughtful novel.  ( School Library Journal )