cover image Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat

Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat

Gary Paulsen. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5223-6

A master of action-propelled outdoor stories, Paulsen moves his focus inside, literally and figuratively, as he explores the interactions among six eighth-grade boys while they take shelter in a school bathroom during a severe weather alert. The situation is recounted by narrator Jordan, known for his anxiety-induced nosebleeds, his “standing date with the detention hall,” and his acerbic, insecurity-masking humor. Through the boys’ conversations and Jordan’s opinionated commentary, Paulsen shapes complex portraits of each character (including a condescending “hyperintellectual,” a popular but “emotionally tone deaf” overachiever, and a mostly nonspeaking kid plugged into his earbuds and rocking an air guitar), exposing subtle contrasts between their inner and outer selves. At the story’s emotional center is skittish new student Avery, who’s embarrassed by his security blanket–like plush cat. The novel’s contained setting and rapid-fire dialogue gives the story a theatrical quality that Paulsen taps into directly by retelling the entire story in screenplay form, complete with stage directions, at the end. Both versions provide opportunities for thought and conversations about self-honesty, stereotypes, and making friends in unexpected situations. Ages 8–12. (May)