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Scat

A Florida class trip turns into a quest to save a panther and her cub.

By Augusta Scattergood / February 16, 2009



Scat, Carl Hiaasen’s new book for middle-graders, begins when Mrs. Bunny Starch and her students set out on a field trip to learn about Florida’s fauna and flora. By the book’s end, they’re fighting to save the state’s most threatened species, an elusive panther and her cub.

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With his trademark rapid-fire style, Hiaasen fills this novel with suspense, humor, and oddball characters, human and animal. A Prius-driving man in a ski cap, a pet macaw that speaks three languages, and Duane, aka Smoke – a 16-year-old who sits in class chomping No. 2 pencils and was once accused of burning down a billboard – all are certain to draw young readers into the story.

And who wouldn’t appreciate a mystery in which wildfires blaze and bad guys get their comeuppance?

At the center of this novel is 14-year-old Nick, whose father, an injured National Guard soldier, returns from Iraq determined to pick up again on a life of fishing and playing baseball with his son. Intertwined with panther tracking in a foggy swamp and the search for a missing teacher, this soldier’s story is presented with compassion.

Although Hiaasen knows how to weave a terrific tale without preaching, budding environmentalists can learn something here. Developers are encroaching on the turf of endangered panthers, of whom fewer than 100 remain in Florida.

In “Scat,” as in his previous Newbery Honor book “Hoot,” the author leaves no doubt as to which side of the ecological fence he stands on.

"Scat” is an adventure, fast-paced and fun to read. But it’s nice that, along the way, some of the book’s most frightening characters also turn out to be the most redemptive. Just because the zaniest teacher at the Truman School lives in a scary house on 777 Buzzard Boulevard and collects taxidermic creatures doesn’t mean she might not deserve a standing ovation from her class one day.

But perhaps the most important lesson to take away from Hiaasen’s books is that reading a novel you can’t put down is fun. Lots of fun.

And if there are grown-up Hiaasen fans in the house? Hide your books, kids. Or you may have to wrestle this one out of their hands.

Augusta Scattergood is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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