Zoe is frustrated at being in a wheelchair and having a body that doesn’t always do what she wants it to do. She’s great at writing poetry, but it’s hard for her to do art projects, tie knots, cut with scissors, or button things. She adores her service dog, Ella, a chocolate brown Labrador retriever, thinks that her older 12-year-old brother, Simon, is usually ok, and feels that her loving parents are over-protective. She’s afraid that her life is doomed to be ordinary because she is in a wheelchair, and she longs for adventures. Her African- American teacher teaches their fourth grade class about Kwanza, and she also learns from her classmates about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Hindu holiday of Divali, and the Eid feast day at the end of Ramadan. The Jewish interest relates to her best friend Anna, who celebrates the Jewish Sabbath and Hanukkah. Zoe learns about the meaning of the holiday, lights the menorah, plays the dreidel game, and eats jelly donuts called sufganiyot. In turn, Anna helps Zoe and her brother make gingerbread houses at Christmas. They have a great time until Zoe’s dog Ella, gets sprayed by a skunk. Luckily, her friend Ruby’s grandmother, Nalini, who is from India, comes to their rescue. It takes four baths until the skunk smell is gone! With Nalini, Zoe’s brother Simon creates secret Sunday morning toboggan rides for Zoe as an adventure. Zoe learns that people have lots of ways to get around, and that there are many ways to have adventures. She also learns that people celebrate their beliefs in different ways, but everyone has something special about them. Zoe’s mother tells her that her name “Zoe” means “life,” and that life, even with its hard parts, is a gift. Although Zoe is not Jewish, this is a worthwhile addition to most collections because it presents what it is like for a child to live life from a wheelchair. It focuses on a child with a disability who wants to be like her friends and how she enjoys learning about their diverse multicultural celebrations. Color photos of Zoe in her wheelchair and of her chocolate lab make an inviting cover. There is a list of references used by the author, as well as some websites. Ages 8 – 11.
Anne Dublin is the teacher-librarian at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada and an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. Her latest book is June Callwood: A Life of Action (Second Story Press, 2006).