Cute! Fun! Sweet! Inspiring! All these adjectives describe Gaby, Lost and Found, by Angela Cervantes, about a girl who wants to rescue animals but soon finds herself in need of a permanent home. Gaby, her friends, and even the adult guardians in her life make for a realistic and endearing cast. Through the suspenseful plot, readers will learn about shelters and immigration, besides being entertained.
What struck me foremost is how true-to-life but also sympathetic the characters are. Gaby loves animals. She’ll do anything to rescue them. But she still feels a little upset when a cat in a tree ends up ruining her sweater. Her best friend Alma is a true-blue friend who will help Gaby get her wish for their class project to be helping out an animal shelter–although she is more than a little disgusted by the amount of poop involved. Local neighborhood boys Marcos and Enrique waste no time in tormenting the girls with the fact that shelters often kill the weakest animals. Yet Marcos comes to check on Gaby when she gets into a fight with Alma.
This is an exciting story. What I most appreciated, though, is that Cervantes skillfully blended two subplots into one, making also for a complex story. This isn’t just about a girl who wants to get her own pet, help out at the shelter, rescue a cat from apathetic owners, or keep her position after she sneaks home one of the animals. Nor is this just about whether or not Gaby’s dad will find a permanent job, her mom will return to the United States, and Gaby will herself get rescued from her predicament of being without a family. This is the story of a girl who loves to care for animals in need but is also in need herself. I also admire that while Cervantes manages to instill hope, she recognizes that huge obstacles prevent either situation from having an easy solution. Readers can see their own plights in Gaby’s, and can find plausible answers by following Gaby’s example.
There’s another reason for adults to like the plot too. It’s educational! Students will learn about both immigration and animal rescue. Gaby’s mom is originally from Honduras. While working a shift at her job, Gaby’s mom is rounded up for being an illegal worker and deported. Now she’s trying to find a way back into the country to raise her daughter, but is also struggling to earn money to pay the “coyotes” who will help her illegally cross the border. In most chapters, Gabby and her mother talk on the phone about their hopes of soon being reunited. It’s a heartbreaking story. Adults might want to talk with young readers about the reasons why sometimes families enter the United States illegally.
Turning to the animal shelter plot, Gaby’s story never feels like a platform for the issue, but it definitely does serve as an effective cry for volunteers. All the dogs and cats which Gaby helps care for are in need of socialization, so that people will want to adopt them. When Gaby begins making posters, she learns that she will need the support of local businesses if she wishes to advertise on their bulletin boards. Teachers might use the posters as models to encourage social action on the part of their own students. However, while Cervantes does address the neglect that can happen to some animals, she doesn’t talk about the ugly world of puppy mills. She also creates a strangely unrealistic situation of a couple who who threaten to sue the shelter for the return of their cat even though they obviously have no attachment to the cat.
Minor flaws aside, Gaby Lost and Found is a great introduction to middle-school readers about the complexities of immigration and animal rescue. Moreover, it inspired me as an adult to find ways to become more personally involved in animal rescue. For these reasons, I think it’s a heart-warming tale for all ages.
Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2014.