cover image The Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals

Michael J. Rosen. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-374-30838-4

Rosen (The Thanksgiving Wish) inflates a query into a conundrum in this issue-driven novel. Jared, who is Jewish, wants to bring his dog to the neighborhood Catholic church for the St. Francis Festival, which includes a blessing of the animals. His mom says no, but, judging the question ""complicated,"" she tells Jared to get four opinions on the matter; she'll seek out four opinions, too. Among those heard from are the Catholic priest, Jared's great-grandfather (who helped found the local synagogue), the Sunday school teacher (a Holocaust survivor), a cantor and a rabbi--all individuals who could be presumed to bring some expertise to the debate. However, the characters engage in surprisingly superficial and uninformative dialogue, and although the topic is essentially religious, they rarely touch upon the issue of faith. Instead, the discussion ranges from a specious debate about whether or not Jared's dog is Jewish to a message to be proud of the difference conferred by Jewish identity. A Reform rabbi says to get all the blessings you can; another rabbi posits that taking care of animals is the Jewish way to bless them. The argument touches on a few other points, none of them well developed. Francis himself figures chiefly as ""the king of animal lovers""and the meaning of the contested ceremony remains vague. A disappointing, slack treatment of a promising theme. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)