cover image The Warm Place

The Warm Place

Nancy Farmer. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-531-06888-5

Farmer, whose The Ear, the Eye and the Arm received a 1995 Newbery Honor, confirms her place among the most inventive YA writers of the day with this rollicking tale. Ruva, a baby giraffe kidnapped by poachers, despairs of ever again seeing her mother or her home in central Africa. Fortunately, during the ocean crossing she meets up with Rodentus von Stroheim the Third, a most unusual rat who takes it upon himself to educate her. She puts his training to work at the horrible Dante's Zoo outside San Francisco, learning to trust her instincts in finding her home (the ""Warm Place""), practicing giraffe magic (disappearing into the background) and, finally, escaping with the help of a smart-mouthed chameleon named Nelson and a Templeton-esque rat named Troll. The motley crew stows away on an Africa-bound yacht, but the journey home is fraught with peril, not the least of which are the evil Slopes, a family of demons who have enslaved Jabila, a runaway boy searching for a ""Warm Place"" of his own. Following in the grand tradition of Roald Dahl's fantastical James and the Giant Peach, Farmer's tale careens from one over-the-top situation to the next; laced with dry humor and populated by memorable characters, it is pure delight. Ages 9-11. (Apr.)