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Finding Susie Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3—Sandra lives on a ranch and yearns for a pet to keep her company. Her understanding parents allow her to care for various wild creatures of the desert that need her help, including a tortoise, a wild rabbit, an injured coyote, and, finally, an orphaned baby bobcat. As she feeds and cares for each one, Sandra slowly realizes that it will be happier in its natural habitat and reluctantly releases it into the wild. Then the town grocer comes up with a good solution—a small, white, stray dog with a curly tail that needs a home. O'Connor's story is somewhat autobiographical, and the endpapers display actual photos of her, Susie, and the ranch where she lived as a child. Pohrt's realistic-looking watercolor illustrations of the Southwest are well done, although Sandra does not look much older at the end, when at least two years have passed in her search for a pet. However, the theme is a good one, with its emphasis on the fact that wild animals thrive best in the wild, and the story is well told.—Judith Constantinides, formerly at East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, LA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Review, The New York Times Book Review, August 16, 2009:
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I read this book to my son (who is almost 5 years old) and he enjoyed it. He understood the entire story, but he did become a bit antsy towards the end of the book. Don't get me wrong, he was able to sit for the entire story; however, FINDING SUSIE is longer than our usual night-time reads. The book is probably geared for kindergartners and up based on his reaction. Although there are definitely preschoolers who will love this book (the recommended age range is 4-8.)
FINDING SUSIE tells the story of Justice O'Connor's childhood adventures with the animals that lived around her family's ranch. She absolutely adored animals of all types and kept bringing home wild animals with the hopes that she could turn them into her pet. Some examples of the animals that found their way into Sandra's heart included a tortoise, a rabbit, a coyote and a bobcat. She finally ended up with a stray dog which she named Susie.
In addition to the story, I thought the illustrations in this book were just wonderful. Mr. Pohrt's pictures have appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in addition to many other picture books. The details on both the animals as well as the people's faces are exquisite; and I found the illustrations to be a perfect compliment to the text.
I also really liked the messages in this book. I especially appreciated the overall idea that some animals are not meant to be pets -- they are better suited to living in the wild. There is also the message that it's not always easy to do the right thing. Sandra learned this lesson the hard way when she had to keep giving up the animals that she loved because they weren't happy being pets. I also liked that Sandra was persistent and never gave up throughout this story. She knew she wanted a pet more than anything and she kept on trying over and over again. I have a feeling that these same personality traits that Justice O'Connor had as a child served her well in her adult life.
Her first encounter is with a desert tortoise she names Hercules. There are nice facts about the animals sprinkled throughout the story, which kids will appreciate. In the case of the desert tortoise, we learn that they can live to be one hundred years old and that they dig deep tunnels in the winter and hibernate. Sandra also learns that they are beginning to disappear and ultimately makes the decision to return him to the desert.
The story continues with Sandra befriending a cottontail rabbit (who always seems afraid and never comfortable as a pet), a young coyote caught in a trap (she nurses him back to health and sets him free) and a baby bobcat (who ends up scratching her over some raw meat). Each time Sandra is hopeful that she has found the perfect pet, and each time she realizes that the animal would be better off in the wild.
The story ends with a friend of the family's bringing over a stray dog named Susie. Of course, Susie proves to be the perfect pet and friend for Sandra. Susie likes to be with Sandra and follows her wherever she goes. It's a delightful ending to a story about the universal longing for a pet.
The watercolor pictures do an admirable job of creating the desert setting. I grew up in Arizona and they whisked me right back to my childhood where desert tortoises were spotted occasionally, jackrabbits all the time and coyote's howling lulled me to sleep. Another really interesting feature (probably more for adults than kids) are the endpapers of the book. Here you see real photographs from O'Connor's childhood on the ranch, including one with her pet javelina. Finding Susie is a nice snapshot into the early life of a fascinating American woman.