Bernie has a soft spot for unwanted animals. His barn teems with an assortment of birds, rodents and even horses. Just the same, there is order in the building. A duck, known as the Lady, oversees the residents. When she decides that the mangy cat Whittington should join the family, everyone agrees. Well, nearly everyone. The rats are not happy. Whittington is descended from a long line of skilled ratters, and only a precarious truce gains their concession.
Bernie’s grandchildren, Abby and Ben, love to help feed the animals. The children confide to them that Ben has trouble reading. The Lady decides that the animals must help him. Abby promises to give Ben reading lessons in the barn everyday under their supervision. When Ben becomes especially frustrated, the Lady invites Whittington to explain his family history, for the cat can claim as his own ancestor the cat of the famous Dick Whittington. Dick’s trials and adventures, along with the affection and patience of his barnyard friends, inspire Ben to persevere.
Armstrong intertwines the legend of Dick Whittington with the simple story of a dyslexic boy in this Newbery Honor book. The reader encounters many endearing characters amongst the talking animals. Perhaps most touching is the care that they take not only in helping Ben, but in accepting each other. The residents of the barn form a family in which there is always room for someone new, no matter what his limitations.
Jennifer Minicus is a wife and mother currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.