Sugar & Clive and the Circus Bear (Dogwood Island Animal Adventure Series Book 1)

...It is an enjoyable children's book, but some of the ideas should be challenged, or at least discussed with your child rather than taken at face value....

The travelling circus has left a small island in British Columbia with a problem; specifically a caged bear called Sebastian who the circus abandoned when they went bankrupt. Unable to trace the owners, the town decides to send the bear to the Calgary zoo, but Sugar and Clive disagree. They hatch a daring plan to help Sebastian escape to freedom in the wild. But no plans run smoothly, particularly because Sugar is a dog, and her friend Clive is a barn swallow.

Sugar and Clive starts with a bang, literally; a bear charges a man on a fishing boat, there’s the crack of a rifle, and then… then we start Chapter one. On the surface this is an enjoyable romp. It has good characters, a well designed if simple plot (“Free Willy” with a bear and animals instead of killer whale and boy) and is well written and easy to follow. The presentation, spelling and grammar are also well done, with one picky note: Trevor’s owner’s name changed from Stuart to Stewart. Unfortunately under closer examination, there are a few things that did limit my enjoyment of it.

Told in third person from the various animals’ point of view, while the characters are very much anthropomorphised, they are still animals. The first time we meet Sugar, she is finding something disgusting and rolling in it. They have very clear characters and motivations, and Sugar’s background explains her hatred of cages, and her mistaken impression that zoos are just cages, quite well. Much like such animal classics as Animals of Farthing Wood, all the animals can talk to each other but not to people, although unlike most such books they can also understand people.

I have a few reservations about the plot of this book, namely the depiction of zoo staff who are shown as evil rather than animal loving, and the release of a captive-bred and raised animal into the wild without acclimating it or giving it a chance to learn to hunt. In real life such actions do not have a happy outcome, and the book’s rather idyllic ending would be very different. While it is a good story, be prepared to have awkward discussions with your child about what really happens when domesticated animals are abandoned and the role of wildlife parks in conservation. Sugar’s idea of a zoo and cages, while coloured by her background, is far removed from the modern day version of zoos (at least in the UK).

It is an enjoyable children’s book, but some of the ideas should be challenged, or at least discussed with your child rather than taken at face value.

Rating: 3
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rz3300 (8 October 2016)
For some reason the stranger the title of the work the more interested I become, and this is certainly the case here. The fact that it is children's book is good too, and I might be able to bring it into work and have a new favorite for the kids.

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