By: Jane Oldaker
Confidence and self-esteem are personality traits which can have a great impact upon an individual’s life. When they are high you feel unstoppable. The opposite is often the case when self-esteem is low. Considering this, it will come as no great surprise that in order to be a crack secret agent, these are indispensable traits that one must possess. Even if that individual happens to be a cat! This is just such the case in the book Arlo’s Epiphany- The Secret Life and Career of Arlo the Barncat, by author Jane Oldaker. For those readers who are interested in taking a unique and imaginative look at the detrimental impact which bullying can have on one’s self, this book could be a great pick!
Essentially, the story is about a group of farm animals who are operating as a spy agency. Given human abilities, their collective goal is to maintain the safety and security of their home and property. Arlo the barncat is one of the top operatives but is struggling with his confidence due to an unsuccessful encounter with a bully cat by the name of McTavish. Now doubting his own abilities and effectiveness, Arlo is at a crossroads of sorts. Unhappy with the beating which Arlo received, the other “agents” team up and provide a lesson of their own to McTavish … courtesy of their own “tough as nails” alley cat by the name of Mahoney. Afterwards however, a discovery is made in the barn which will requires the help of the entire intelligence community…including McTavish. Enemy forces are approaching from all sides. Can Arlo pull it back together in time to unite his forces and ward off this impending attack? Or will past wrongs and hurt pride doom them to failure, ultimately leading to tragic consequences?
There can be little doubt that this is a very imaginative and entertaining tale. It also contains a number of key messages. The negative impact of bullying, and the need for bystanders to collectively stand up against it, were the primary themes for this reader. The characters are also very engaging and creative. To have these various farm animals possess human abilities, and use them in a “James Bond” type of setting, is quite rich and creative. Also, characters such as Arlo, Mahoney and McTavish developed in great detail throughout the course of this short tale. We are thus able to obtain a true understanding of their different personalities and motivations.
While I enjoyed this story quite a bit, I am left wondering who is truly intended as the main reading audience. The theme and characters are perfect for young children. However, to properly unfold this theme the young reader will have to contend with complicated language and story events. For instance, it would be easy for the young mind to assume it is fine for everyone to gang up together and deliver a beating to the local bully. That is not the case which is trying to be made however. While bystanders to bullying have a role, it is more about opening up the eyes of the bully and everyone else, and then working together for the collective good. That is a complicated message and requires a lot of thought! I could envision this book as a great production or play which could be used in anti-bullying campaigns which would explain the message as the play develops. However, left alone as a story it will be difficult for young children to comprehend the many hidden messages. As such, I would recommend this book for children to read with adult support and guidance.
3 out of 5 Creative Stars for this one! ***