21 November 2010

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise; Julia Stuart

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A NovelThe Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel by Julia Stuart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this out of our Just In books with an eye to recommending something whimsical to our Upper School students; having read it, I'm not so sure it's whimsical or that younger students (9th/10th grade) will enjoy it.

Balthazar Jones is a Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) at the Tower of London; his son has died, his marriage is falling apart, and he's tired of living in a round tower with fungus behind his knees. The Palace decides to move the Royal Menagerie back to the Tower from London Zoo, and Warder Jones is put in charge of their care. Why? It's not quite clear. His wife, Hebe, works in the Lost Property Office of the London Underground; Rev. Septimus Drew, the Tower's chaplain, is in love with the barmaid; the Ravenmaster is having an affair with the cafe's chef (if you can call her attempts with food cooking); and then there's Arthur Catnip, in love with Hebe's co-worker and the finder of many interesting items for Hebe and Valerie to reunite with their owners. The collection of characters is, at first glance, giggle-worthy, but Ms. Stuart never brings their stories to that level. Despite this lack of whimsy, the book will interest readers who enjoy character studies.

It was interesting to learn about new animals: the zorilla, the bearded pig, the crested water dragons and the sugar glider (the next time I'm at a zoo I want to see if I can find any of them!). Ditto the history of the Tower, which is interspersed throughout the book. While I have no way of knowing that Sir Walter Raleigh is truly haunting the people living there, it was a surprise to learn that while he was imprisoned there he was allowed to grow tobacco and potatoes! And, of course, as a librarian, the lengths Hebe and Valerie go to to find the owners of the lost objects is impressive (and all without a computer!)

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