________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 2004



Eric Walters.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2002.
109 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 0-00-639225-3.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Gillian Noonan.

*** /4


And then, just as I was starting to drift off, I thought about Mr. Johnston again, and something Elyse had said -- about how she knew what it was like to lose something you loved. And I couldn't help thinking about the things I'd lost, and how afraid I was of losing anything more -- Wait a second, I hadn't said my prayers!

I climbed out of my sleeping bag and dropped to my knees. I took a look over my shoulder to see if anybody was watching me. My sister Janice was in her room and my father was downstairs working. I didn't like anybody to see me saying my prayers. Janice said it was stupid. It's funny, because my sister and I used to be pretty close -- she was just seven years older than me -- but lately she'd been treating me like some dumb kid who didn't have a clue and whose only purpose in life was to bug her as much as possible. Of course I was pretty good at bugging her.

My father didn't think praying was stupid -- just pointless. He said he stopped believing in God when my mother died. Strange, that was about the time I figured that I really started to need to believe in God even more.

"Dear God," I mumbled softly into my hands. "I had a good day today ... thanks for that ... and I hope things will work out good tomorrow too. I really don't want to trouble you about things -- you have enough to take care of -- but I hope things can work out with this snake. But if they don't, you know, I'll understand ... because things happen that I don't want and I know it's for a reason ... right? So good night, thank you, I love you, and amen."


In this autobiographical novel, Ricky, Eric Walters tells the story of Ricky, an eighth grader with a menagerie of animals (including a caiman) and a big heart. In many ways, Ricky is a typical eighth grader except that he has big responsibilities at home due to his mother's death. He has an amazing knowledge of animals, and he is so smart that he skipped a grade in school. Ricky assists his science teacher, Mr. Johnston, in caring for the animals in the school's science labs until one morning when the school arrives to learn that vandals have cruelly killed or maimed the animals including Bogart, a boa conscrictor whom Mr. Johnston must euthanize. Knowing firsthand how important these animals, especially the snake, were to their teacher, Ricky and his friend Augie set in motion a plan to raise $400 and purchase a new snake for Mr. Johnston as a surprise.

     Walters does a commendable job with his characters. They are believable and easily liked. Ricky is a bright boy with a shy streak, especially around girls. He longs for more family contact than he receives from his grown sister and his overworked father. He compensates with his numerous animals and his friendship with Augie, who is a kid with great charisma but who finds academics difficult. He helps Ricky deal with his shyness around girls and receives assistance in his studies from Ricky. The absence of Ricky's mom is a point of question between the boys since Ricky avoids the inevitable questions whenever they are asked. Augie, however, has an intuitive sense of what the loss of his mom means to Ricky. The bonds of their friendship are indeed strong. As Walters, through Augie, describes it, "We both take care of each other, just in different ways. And you know what else we have in common? Neither of us would ever hurt the other one, at least not on purpose, right?" While the poignancy of this scene where the boys discuss their friendship is readily apparent, it is not melodramatic. Young male readers will understand the feelings shared by the two friends as if it was a relationship of their own choosing.

     In his author's note, Walters passes a very important message on to young readers and writers, in particular. He says, "Writing this book helped me to gain a better understanding of where I came from and who I became." Insight into the value of the reading and writing processes is difficult for many individuals to adequately explain. Elementary and intermediate students are no exception. Why an individual author chooses to write and what he learns from it helps them sort out their own feelings and beliefs.

     Ricky is an enjoyable story. In a very real way, it helps affirm one's belief in the basic goodness of mankind, especially in the face of despicable acts. Our young hero and his friend show how small acts of kindness compound to have a bigger and more substantial impact. Young readers will not only enjoy a good story from reading Ricky but also will receive an important message that they too can make a difference.


Gillian Martin Noonan is a teacher living in Old Perlican, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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