Themes of friendship and the love of animals pair comfortably in the leadoff title of the Critter Club series. When elementary-schooler Amy’s three best friends disperse for spring break, Amy delves into her new Nancy Drew book while working the front desk at her mother’s veterinary clinic. Inspired by Nancy’s clue gathering, Amy hones her own sleuthing skills when one of her mother’s patients, a Saint Bernard puppy, disappears. The mystery is light—a trail of fresh paw prints makes it obvious the dog hasn’t wandered far—but Amy’s plan to retrieve the runaway pup reveals sharp thinking. The puppy’s grateful owner recruits Amy and her friends to help her open an animal shelter in her barn, which they name the Critter Club, setting the stage for future escapades. Despite a few clichés (“Light bulbs went off in her head”), Barkley’s writing is crisp, with punchy dialogue, concise sentences, and a swift pace. Large type and ample artwork make this a fine fit for beginning readers. Final art not seen by PW. Simultaneously available: All About Ellie. Ages 5–7. Illustrator’s agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. (Jan.)
It’s Spring Break in Santa Vista, and everyone has big plans...everyone except for Amy, that is! As her best friends head out of town on exciting adventures, Amy resigns herself to helping out at her mom’s vet clinic. At least she’ll be around cute animals! But when Santa Vista’s cold and elusive millionaire, Marge Sullivan, brings her puppy Rufus for a check-up, Amy encounters an unexpected mystery. After her friends return home, the girls get to the bottom of what happened to Rufus—and discover a way to help other lost and lonely animals in their town.
With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, The Critter Club chapter books are perfect for beginning readers.
Gr 1–3—These beginning chapter books chronicle the adventures of bookish Amy, theatrical Ellie, artistic Liz, and horse-loving Marion. While the eight-year-olds have varied interests and come from diverse families, they're as close as sisters, and they all look forward to their weekly slumber parties. In Ellie, the title character is cast as the lead in the school play, and her friends don't appreciate her self-centered attitude-especially when she neglects her duties at the animal shelter. In the end, a heartfelt apology and a heroic effort toward the shelter's residents win back her friends. In Puppy, Amy helps her veterinarian mother locate a lost pet belonging to a crabby elderly woman who ends up being friendlier than anyone suspected. The woman donates a building to establish an animal shelter, which Amy and her friends help run. Simple, upbeat plots, plenty of black-and-white illustrations, and relatable themes make these great picks for newly independent readers.—Amanda Struckmeyer, Middleton Public Library, Madison, WI
Amy, left alone while her friends travel or are otherwise occupied during break, solves a mystery in this series opener. Amy whiles away her time helping with her mother's veterinary practice. She misses her friends but looks forward to their next sleepover when everyone returns. When she's not busy, she dives into her newest Nancy Drew book. When her mother's wealthiest client's puppy, Rufus, goes missing, it's time for Amy to use what she has learned from Nancy Drew to find the little Saint Bernard. When she does, the millionaire client generously plans to start a local shelter, at which the four friends can volunteer, opening the door for further adventures of the Critter Club. A mystery for emerging chapter-book readers has to provide easy-to-see clues, and this one does, enabling readers to solve the mystery right along with Amy. At times, the narrative is a bit too obvious: There is probably no need to have a full paragraph explaining the purpose of a vet's office nor descriptions of the girls' physical characteristics, given that each page is illustrated. With four likable, diverse characters and the surefire appeal of cute puppies and other pets, the Critter Club is off to a promising start. (Mystery. 5-7)
Read an Excerpt
Amy and the Missing Puppy
Amy felt herself starting to blush. Her cheeks felt warm, then hot. Amy shook her short, light brown hair over her freckled face. She hoped it would hide her bright pink cheeks. At least I’m not at school, Amy thought. I hate blushing in front of the whole class!
In fact Amy wouldn’t be back at her school, Santa Vista Elementary, for one whole week. It was the Friday night before spring break. Amy was in her bedroom with her best friends, Marion, Ellie, and Liz. They had a sleepover almost every Friday. This week, it was Amy’s turn to host.
The girls were finishing up a game of MASH. Amy held up the paper that had made her blush. She pointed to the name of her future husband.
Liz, Marion, and Ellie squealed.
“You’re so lucky, Amy!” Ellie said, shaking her hands to dry her newly painted nails. Stewart was Liz’s big brother. He was twelve. All the girls, except for Liz, thought he was the cutest.
“Lucky?” said Liz. Marion was braiding Liz’s wavy blond hair in front of the mirror. Liz wrinkled her nose. “Who would want to marry my brother? Ew.”
“I can’t stay up too late tonight,” Marion said. She wrapped a hair band around Liz’s braid. “Tomorrow my mom and I are taking Coco to a big horse show!”
Coco was Marion’s brown purebred horse. Marion was a great rider. Together, Marion and Coco had won tons of blue ribbons! “We’ll be out of town for most of the week,” Marion added, her green eyes twinkling.
“Me too,” said Liz. Liz and her family were going to the beach. “I can’t wait! A whole week of sun, sand, and best of all, no homework!” Liz flopped back onto Amy’s bed. “I’m going to bring my easel and paint box. I’ll paint you each a sunset!” Amy loved Liz’s paintings. She was such a good artist!
Ellie sighed and fluffed her red pillow. “Well, I’ll be here in Santa Vista all week,” she said, plopping down. Her tight black curls bounced over her headband. Ellie tossed her head dramatically. “BOR-ing! But at least my Nana Gloria is coming to stay!”
Ellie’s grandmother was moving in with her family. “She’s bringing over some boxes—and her parrot, Lenny! I want to teach him a song. Then we can sing a duet!”
Ellie grabbed a pink hairbrush. She flicked on Amy’s MP3 player. Singing along with a pop song, Ellie belted into her hairbrush microphone. Ellie always sang loudly and with feeling, like an actress on a stage.
“How about you, Amy?” Ellie said. “What are you going to do this week?”
Amy’s heart sank a little. Her friends all had somewhere to go or something to do. She didn’t.
Amy’s parents were divorced and Amy lived with her mom in Santa Vista. Her dad lived in Orange Blossom, the next town over. Amy sighed as she remembered that she couldn’t even go visit Dad this break because he was away on business.
Amy shrugged. “Read?” she said. “I do have a brand-new Nancy Drew book. Count the change in my piggy bank? Dust my sticker collection?” Her friends giggled, but Amy was only half joking. What was she going to do?
“I guess I’ll help my mom at the clinic,” Amy said. Amy’s mom, Dr. Melanie Purvis, was a veterinarian. She ran a vet clinic in the house next door. Pets from all over Santa Vista came for their checkups. Other times, animals came when they were sick or hurt. Amy loved animals of all kinds. She also loved spending time at her mom’s clinic.
As if reading her mind, Amy’s cat Milly crawled out from under the bed. She climbed into Amy’s lap. “Milly will keep me company. Right, Milly?”
Only seven days until next Friday—their next sleepover. Then they would all be together again.
Oh, well, thought Amy. Spring break can’t last forever.