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Hoot by Carl Hiaasen is one of his novels for children/young adults, and is very much concerned with protecting the environment, a favourite theme in Hiaasen’s writing.

Roy is the new kid in school.  He has moved from the wilds of Montana to a Florida suburb and is finding his way in his new school. He moves about a lot because of his dad’s job, and is fairly used to being the outsider.

One day, as he is sitting on the school bus, he sees a ragged, barefoot boy running across the neighbourhood gardens looking determined, and Roy is drawn to him. He wonders about the boy and what he is doing and determines that the next time he sees him, he will follow him.

When this happens Roy, unfortunately loses the boy and gets into a contretemps with the school bully, a brutal, neanderthal figure who decides from that point on to make Roy’s life hell.

The story goes on to tell how Roy tracks down the boy and how, through him he becomes involved in helping to protect some rare, burrowing owls which are nesting on a down town building site which is about to be flattened and turned into a pancake house. It also tells how Roy finds his place in his new school, and faces up to the bully who wants to make his life a misery.

The book is skilfully written as an engaging adventure story rather than a moral essay about conservation.  The barefoot boy’s plans to protect the burrowing owl lead to all kinds of funny situations which had me laughing out loud and which will definitely appeal to younger readers, with alligators down portaloos and venomous snakes with glitter on their tails putting the wind up the building site foreman.

The story is funny and well plotted. There are strong characters of both sexes, and although the book would probably be more appealing to boys, the cuteness of the owls and the decent girl characters means that it has crossover appeal.  I would recommend it for tens and up.

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