Best known as the creator of beloved picture book characters Yoko, McDuff and Max and Ruby, author-illustrator Rosemary Wells has targeted an older age group in much of her recent work, writing five middle-grade titles in the last four years. In each of these books (Following Grandfather, On the Blue Comet, My Havana and Lincoln and His Boys) Wells demonstrates a keen appreciation for her middle-grade audience and a deceptively simple approach to storytelling.

Both hold true once again in her latest book, Ivy Takes Care, the quietly touching story of a girl who has a sense of compassion beyond her years and a goal for the future that transcends her upbringing. It's 1949, and Ivy is the daughter of the stable manager at a Nevada dude ranch, where she has learned a thing or two about animals and the value of hard work.

When her well-to-do best friend departs for an East Coast camp, Ivy launches a summer business caring for animals while her neighbors are away on vacation. Whether she’s tending to a pony, an injured fox, a German shepherd or a retired racehorse, Ivy demonstrates a level of resourcefulness and moxie that’s impressive without being annoying. Ivy is no saint (she can’t stand the ranch owner’s pesky young son, for example) but she’s a model of industrious behavior who learns something valuable in each of her pet-sitting assignments. When the local veterinarian points out that she has a way with animals, Ivy begins saving her silver dollars for college and vet school.

Wells, who says the book’s setting was inspired by her own horseback riding adventures in the Nevada mountains in the 1950s, effortlessly unwinds Ivy’s story, building toward a suspenseful conclusion that involves a ball of rattlesnakes and a late-night horse rescue. Not surprisingly, Ivy proves herself cool in a crisis.

In this warm-hearted novel, Wells offers a sympathetic but realistic portrait of human nature and a convincing message about the value of compassion and a job well-done. Illustrations in pencil by noted artist Jim LaMarche capture Ivy’s can-do spirit and the book’s scenic Western backdrop.

Though Wells long ago proved herself as the author-illustrator of adorable picture books, her foray into middle grade fiction and nonfiction continues to delight, adding another chapter to her impressive career.

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