Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, more and more stories for young people are coming into the world. However, none are as unique as Elvis and the World as it Stands by Lisa Frankel Riddiough, which layers the historic tragedy on top of both a kitten and a human who are struggling to understand the new reality in which they live and find a sense of normalcy amidst the unknown.
This is the story of a kitten named Elvis who has lived at the animal shelter with his sister Etta for as long as he can remember. There is a big adoption day coming up, and the siblings are looking forward to going to their forever home together. However, Elvis is adopted by himself, tearing him away from his comfortable existence, and making him determined to do whatever it takes to find his way back to his sister. When obstacles arise in Elvis’ way, he begrudgingly settles in with his new human and animal companions even as he makes plans to return to the shelter to reunite with Etta. Please see my full review here.
I fell into this story right away, both thanks to the accessible design and the humorous, heartwarming characters. Because of this, I ultimately finished reading the book in one sitting because I wanted to discover how the challenges in the narrative would resolve. Particularly enjoyable was the fact that it takes place quite literally in the present day, and I happened to be reading it on Labor Day—Monday, September 6—the same day many of the events in the story occur. This immediacy connected me even more closely to the book and helped me better understand Georgina, the human, and her reality.
Aimed at young middle grade readers who are transitioning to longer chapter books, this story incorporates blocks of text in larger font with occasional illustrations to give readers a sense of familiarity as they become more comfortable with deeper narratives. Though it is a concise novel, it is nonetheless profound in its delivery. While Elvis is feeling disconnected from his family and what he had hoped for his life, so too is Georgina navigating her parents’ divorce and where she fits into her new world. The overarching theme of family existing in more places than just where you are from is encouraging for readers of all ages who have ever felt separate from others in their own lives.
Georgina is a tenacious ten-year-old who loves learning about architecture. Much of her addition to the narrative includes building skyscrapers out of LEGOs and endeavoring to recreate iconic moments from her parents’ lives through her designs. Her parents say wonderfully supportive things to her throughout the story, as well, specifically referring to her perseverance and attention to detail rather than her appearance or other innate factors over which she has little control. Though not every family works this way, the behavior of Georgina’s parents serves as a positive role model for anyone reading this book.
Because of the way animals talk to one another in this story, I was reminded of movies like Homeward Bound and The Secret Life of Pets. Readers who enjoy animals and imagining the conversations they could be having will love this inclusion while they absorb the deeper lessons of family and connection presented throughout the story. This is a delight to read, and would be a welcome addition to any library for early middle grade readers.
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