This coming of age novel utilizes an unusual, but very successful format. The story emerges from a teen's viewpoint and also from a macaw's viewpoint. Chapters alternate between the 13-year-old boy and the 65-year-old bird. The intriguing plot is built around the boy, Ben, who was only a baby when left with the Professor. Ben, the Professor, and Murphy the macaw travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and selling bottled elixir. Ben and Murphy clash at times. However, as the story progresses they develop a mutual understanding of and respect for each other. Professor and Murphy feel a strong urge drawing them to Flamingo, Florida. There Ben tangles with a 12-year-old girl, Bess, who sports a tough front. She and her very ill 16-year-old brother, Enoch, are on their own in the world. To make ends meet they illegally kill egrets, for feathers that are sold to make feathered hats for women. Ben finds himself in a situation where he helps Enoch recover from his illness even though he does not approve of the bird killing. To add to his troubles, Ben rescues two baby egrets to raise until they are strong enough to be on their own. In the end, Ben trusts his heart and does what he feels is right for his friends and the birds. The touching tale is presented in an intriguing way. Readers will come away with a satisfaction when the troubles are resolved and with a new appreciation of the environment. 2003, Walker Publishing Company, Ages 9 to 14.
Nancy Garhan Attebury
Murphy, a sarcastic macaw seer, inspires thirteen-year-old Ben to save Florida's wild birds from rogue hunters in this poignant and sometimes humorous coming-of-age novel set at the turn of the twentieth century. Murphy, Ben, and Ben's adoptive father, Professor Elisha Riley, take their medicine show to Flamingo, Florida. There they encounter orphaned twelve-year-old Bess and her seriously ill sixteen-year-old brother, Enoch Gilbert, taught by local Runt Lawson to earn a living by illegally slaughtering egrets for fashionable hat plumes. Bess buys Professor Riley's Magic Elixer to cure Enoch and attacks Ben when it fails. The professor, recognizing the Gilberts' desperation, sends Ben to them with food and more elixir. Ben dreams that Murphy directs him to a rookery, and acting on the dream, he discovers orphaned baby egrets. Loyal to his rescued birds, Ben reports the Gilberts' hunting plans to the Audubon warden. Fair to the two whom he nourished and cured, Ben warns Bess and Enoch of their imminent arrest. The action-packed climax involving Ben, the Gilberts, the warden, and Lawson proves that Runt not Enoch will kill to save just himself. Through strong characters, magical realism, and allusions to Twain, Dickinson, and Shakespeare, Myers deftly weaves hope, truth, and responsibility into an engaging story about man's partnership with nature. Ben and Murphy will have the strongest appeal for the middle and junior high school audience but will charm even some senior high and adult readers. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Walker, 192p,
Gr 4-8-This coming-of-age story, set in the early 20th century, is rich in historical and environmental detail as well as adventure. Abandoned by his mother as a baby, 13-year-old Ben has been raised by Professor Riley while traveling around the country with their Shakespearean Elocution Show selling magic elixir. The narration alternates between Ben and the Professor's caustic macaw, Murphy, whose sections are full of jealousy and resentment toward "the boy" who has monopolized the man's love and attention. When the unusual family travels into Florida, Murphy, who often has premonitions, becomes convinced that Ben has a dangerous and important task to accomplish-he must save the beautiful birds that are being massacred to provide feathers for fashionable hats. Ben is captivated by them, and horrified at their plight. When he gets involved with a brother and sister who are hunters because they are so poor that they have no other way to survive, he is torn. The Professor has taught Ben well, not only about literature and language, but also about fairness and compassion. He cares for the sick young hunter and two baby birds he has rescued from slaughter, and survives confrontations with a cruel hunter and a Florida panther. The narration by Murphy is an odd twist that doesn't always ring completely true. However, Ben's gradual realization that there are two valid sides to many issues, including hunting and medicine, shows his maturity and makes this a satisfying read.-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A formal-voiced macaw tells the opening chapter of this affecting tale about an unusual family and a predicament of egrets. In 1891, a traveling elocutionist/salesman adopts an abandoned baby, sparking jealousy in his cocky bird Murphy. Thirteen years later, the baby has grown into thoughtful Ben, skeptical of the elixir his father sells and unsure of his own path in life. When Murphy (who is psychic as well as endearingly haughty) feels a call from birds in Florida, the wagon heads there and discovers that entire rookeries of nesting egrets are being massacred for the money their feathers bring. Ben wrestles with this horror, as he becomes friends with two dirt-poor children who have no other way to survive. Difficult issues of morality and family weave themselves between the alternated voices of Ben and Murphy, who may have more in common than either would care to admit. Thoughtful. (author's note) (Fiction. 10-14)