A pig, a possum, llamas and chimpanzees are just a few of the species that have populated Peg Kehret's books. The award-winning author has always had a soft spot in her heart for animals, and her fiction books for middle-grade readers almost always feature creatures as well as believable young human protagonists.
Her latest book is a memoir, but it, too, is full of fauna - the title, "Animals Welcome," ought to clue you in. Kehret shares her experiences living on a 10-acre wildlife sanctuary near Mount Rainier and running a foster home for cats.
"Animals Welcome" is a lively book. In chapter after chapter, the reader will encounter not only rescue cats, but also runaway dogs, stray ponies, peacocks, raccoons, deer and an assortment of other wildlife.
Kehret explains how she and her husband, Carl, had their property certified as a wildlife sanctuary when they first moved there. She tells wonderful stories about the wild animals she has witnessed from her back porch.
And one of the stories is about the wildlife she witnessed on her back porch. A curious black bear had discovered the bin where she kept sunflower seeds for her bird feeder. Kehret wasn't able to chase the bruin off until she pulled out a big brass bell, a memento given to her in honor of winning the Iowa Children's Choice Award. Several vigorous clangs of the bell finally persuaded the bear to forage elsewhere.
But this is only part of the story - and in a chapter titled "The Poacher," Kehret writes honestly about her encounter with a neighbor who was hunting in a place where it was forbidden. She does not sugarcoat the ethical dilemma she faced and the ultimate consequences, but there are no graphic scenes of violence. This trustworthiness has always been a hallmark of Kehret's writing; she respects and cares about her young readers.
Kehret broaches another difficult topic in her memoir -- the death of Carl, her husband of 48 years. As a couple they had taken many cross-country trips in their RV, making appearances at schools, conferences, bookstores and libraries. Carl was well-known to her young fans.
Kehret writes about her devastation when Carl died during open-heart surgery. She also shares how she figured out a way to move forward.
Kehret has always taken in strays. As she says, "animal rescue is not so much a one-time event as it is a mind-set, a willingness to get involved." She converted her husband's workshop - a place that held many happy memories for her - into a foster home for cats, figuring that would be a great way to honor the work that she and her husband had done on an informal basis for years.
As any cat-lover knows, every feline has a distinct personality. Kehret shares plenty of delightful real-life tales with many happy endings. "Animals Welcome" would be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any young animal lover.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.