Lost in the City

Published in 2013; author Kathleen O'Dell; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Julie's best friend Ivy has a new pet: her uncle's fiancee doesn't want to live with a bird, so he's given Ivy's family his African grey parrot, Lucy. Lucy is very smart (African greys are often estimate to have the intelligence of a three-year-old) and seems to connect with Julie. Ivy's uncle is so impressed that he says Julie should pet-sit while Ivy and her family are away the coming week for his wedding. But when Julie goes over to feed Lucy--and Ivy's cats, obviously kept separate--the next day, Lucy seems withdrawn and sad, not the energetic bird Julie held the day before. Julie's aunt Maia came for dinner last night and was talking about how Julie's pet rabbit Nutmeg would be happier litterbox-trained and hopping around the house...maybe Lucy's feeling cooped up? When she goes over again later in the day, Julie invites over her and Ivy's friend Gordon, who's just moved in down the street (they all went to the same school earlier, though). Lucy seems to perk right up when she sees Gordon, who met the bird at the same time Julie did. Maybe Lucy was fond of Gordon, not Julie. Julie's ego is a little bruised by this, but she's happy that the bird and Gordon, who seems so down lately, are in better spirits.

But there was one strange thing: the sheet that supposed to be over Lucy's cage at night was draped over it. Julie knows she took it off and didn't replace it. Someone else put the sheet on. An older couple, the Shackleys, are staying on the bottom floor of Ivy's house while Mrs. Shackley recovers from surgery. Mr. Shackley is sort of grumpy, complaining about noise a lot. Maybe he put the sheet over the cage to quiet the bird? And the next day, the cats--meant to be indoor cats and not in the same room as the bird--are on the fire escape outside the window in the bird's room. Someone was definitely here--and Lucy is gone! Bravely, Julie calls Ivy to tell her the bad news, but her uncle is gone. He's left a note for his bride, saying she's asking him to make too many sacrifices (i.e.; giving up the bird he's had for about half his life). Julie thinks maybe the uncle came back, came in through the fire escape thus leaving the window open (he doesn't have a key), and took Lucy. Since she can't be sure, Julie puts up missing pet posters and calls the Humane Society animal shelter to see if Lucy is there. 

Julie and Gordon spend the day (it's spring break) looking for Lucy and putting up posters. While they're out, Gordon reveals that his parents are divorcing, and he gets caught in the middle of their arguments a lot. That's why he hasn't been his usual upbeat self. Then, as they're walking, they notice that someone's torn down all the lost pet posters they just put up! For a moment, Julie wonders if Ivy's uncle has reclaimed the parrot and took down the signs to avoid people looking for Lucy, but it turns out he's back for the wedding and his intended has agreed that he shouldn't have to give up his bird. Back at Ivy's, Mr. Shackley readily admits to putting the sheet over Lucy's cage, but that's all he's done. Julie's starting to wonder if Lucy was stolen--African greys that can talk are pretty valuable. And Gordon's got that fancy new jacket that his mom didn't buy (it's so obvious that his dad bought it for him, not caring that his mom thought Gordon should earn it for himself). Julie pokes around Ivy's house to see if Gordon could have some in through the fire escape, and Mr. Shackley, apologetic over how crabby he's been, gives her a hand. Whatever happened, the Shackleys weren't behind it; Julie's sure of that

Julie's able to cross some other suspects off her list. Her aunt, who's been visiting, doesn't like animals kept as pets but knows that one dependent on humans for food and attention wouldn't survive in the wild. Gordon's mother, who Julie finds out took down the lost pet posters, was only removing them because posters aren't allowed in their neighborhood, plus she hand-delivered them to the houses instead. So that leaves Gordon, or some sort of professional bird thief. 

The next day, Julie and her aunt go to nearby pet stores to see if anyone's hawked a parrot (sorry). At one store, Julie hears Lucy! The owner blocks Julie's path, sternly telling her the bird isn't for sale. Julie protests she knows the bird, and lists off several facts about Lucy to prove it. It comes out that Lucy was brought in by a fruit vendor, complaining that one of the store's birds escaped and was eating his fruit. Just then Gordon and his mother show up, also looking for Lucy. Together they all figure out that Lucy is an escape artist, and had flown out the window that Ivy's cats know how to open when Gordon accidentally left the door to Lucy's room open. Oh, and OF COURSE Gordon's dad bought him the coat. His mom promises to communicate better with his dad and not put him in the middle of their fights. And so Lucy is back where she's supposed to be, Ivy and her family return from the wedding, and everything works out.

Looking Back

The historical section bounces around a bit, talking about how a law passed in 1992 forbids the selling of wild-born birds as pets, warning that while parrots and macaws are intelligent and beautiful they can live half a century or more so be really sure you want one for a pet, how animal rights and animal rescue groups started up or grew bigger in Julie's time, about a flock of parrots that escaped and still live wild in San Francisco, and how concern about animal welfare spurred more people to adopt a vegetarian diet.


This book is dedicated to "Elizabeth A. with gratitude."

Hmm, maybe we should set Gordon up with Stacey from the Baby-sitters Club.

Julie listens to the song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, which she says is the number one song on the pop charts. The song was released in August 1976, and is the only song by ABBA to get the top spot on the Billboard Top 100, a few months after its debut. So this books takes place in early April 1977.

I'm glad that Julie's aunt makes a point of having a good protein source in her vegetarian meal. Especially for kids who are still growing, like Julie, protein is important (younger kids need more fat too, for things like brain growth, so be aware of that if your kids eat a vegetarian or vegan diet).

The parrots in San Francisco are far from the only feral parrot populations in the US, or the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_parrots.

I'm very happy the Looking Back part mentioned how long some birds can live. Sometimes species live for seventy years. It's not uncommon for larger birds to outlive their owners, so the owners will often specify new owners in their wills. Sometimes I think I should have bought a parrot ten years ago in case one of my kids were to want one.

Some of the public schools near me are considering starting "Meatless Monday" programs. While I like the idea of encouraging kids to eat healthy and explore new foods, Meatless Monday rubs me the wrong way. In the first place, I don't think food choices should be forced (the public schools do have vegetarian options every day, admittedly I'm not sure what they are as I went to private school). Secondly, I already don't eat meat on Fridays, following the Catholic tradition (parentheses again: Catholics are encouraged to give up something on Fridays in remembrance of the Crucifixion, and meat--Latin carne which doesn't include fish although I sometimes skip that too--is the recommended choice). Meatless Monday strikes me as co-opting that idea. However, I can see that they're trying to encourage something good, so there's that

I have no desire to buy any of the mysteries, so I got this book from my library. There's a piece of paper inside from the last person to check it out. Someone named Sarah got it from the Duvall library (I use a different location but put the book on hold so it was transferred to my library) on February 12 of this year. It was due March 12. The paper is between chapters two and three; I hope Sarah had a chance to finish the book!

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