Book Review: Claude and Medea by Zoe Weil (2007)

June 7th, 2007 1:45 pm by Kelly Garbato

When Claude and Medea: The Hellburn Dogs fell out of my big fat swag bag from Lantern Books, I must say that I was a little…what’s the word?…apprehensive, maybe? I don’t have any kiddos, don’t want any kiddos, don’t know any kiddos, and haven’t been a kiddo for quite some time. A spinster aunt in the making, I am. So I was a little worried about reading and reviewing a kid’s book. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to relate, I guess. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Claude and Medea was awesome, though. I haven’t enjoyed a kid’s book that much for, I dunno, twenty years. (Cause I’m 29. Get it? Cue knee-slapping.)

Yesterday was a nice sunny Kansas day, so I stretched out on the lawn with my kid’s book and the five furbabies, and got edumakated by the totally rad Ms. Rattlebee. Rennie, being the silly terrier that she is, tried her darndest to distract me from the task at hand. Wasn’t easy to resist the lil girl, what with her sad, ratty tennis ball and slobbery pink smile and all…

2007-06-05 - The Furbabies - 0010

…but resist I did.

And here’s the Amazon review to prove it.

Claude and Medea - The Hellburn Dogs

“Is your life the message you want it to be?”

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(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the publisher’s invitation.)

CLAUDE AND MEDEA: THE HELLBURN DOGS is the inspiring story of two children who, with the help of a quirky substitute teacher, find the strength and courage to become heroes.

Claude and Medea, the protagonists of the tale (tail?), hail from very different backgrounds, though both attend the same prestigious private school. Their young lives take a new, unexpected turn when Ms. Flora Rattlebee fills in for their homeroom teacher for one brief yet eventful week. Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that Ms. Rattlebee’s consciousness-raising couldn’t come at a better time, fatefully coinciding with a rash of Manhattan dog-nappings.

Author Zoe Weil has created an enjoyable, progressive, truly family-friendly children’s book. She covers quite a bit of ground, including in her story lessons about speciesism, racism, classism, sizeism, sexism, nepotism, environmentalism, poverty and privilege, bullying, slavery, child labor, littering, endangered species, and civil disobedience. And it’s no wonder: Ms. Weil serves as president of the Institute for Humane Education, a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to creating a humane world through humane education,” for example, by developing training programs for future Ms. (and Mr.!) Rattlebees.

While this is Zoe Weil’s first work of fiction, the subtitle hints at a possible CLAUDE AND MEDEA series. I feel a bit silly saying as much (at 29 years of age and all), but THE HELLBURN DOGS left me with quite a few unanswered questions. Will Claude and Medea ever again cross paths with Ms. Rattlebee? Will their covert friendship ever see the light of Worthington? What’s the deal with the myopic (as in both near-sighted and narrow-minded) Mr. Frool? And, most importantly, will our heroes continue their adventures in direct action? I must know!

During her final class with the students of Worthington, Ms. Rattlebee asked the children to write an essay in response the following question:

“Is your life the message you want it to be?”

She then instructed the students to fold up their essays and place them in self-addressed envelopes:

“Some time, when you least expect it, you’ll receive it in the mail. When you do, open it up and read what you wrote, and notice what you think about it, and how you feel. Pay attention to whether you have made your life more the message you want it to be.”

I can’t help but wonder what Austin, Penelope, Bill, Brent, Meena, Samantha, and the rest of Ms. Rattlebee’s seventh-grade homeroom class will be up to when they unwittingly receive the long-forgotten missives from their past selves.

Would that all our lives be touched by a Ms. Rattlebee. Methinks the world would be a much kinder, gentler, more livable place.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

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