I received a copy of this middle grade novel from the author to place in my library at school. He was hoping to spread awareness of this book. I am so happy that he sent it to us, because I really enjoyed reading it and I'm excited to share it with my students.
Raising Rufus pulls the reader in right away with characters that are very authentic. My students often have a difficult time getting hooked into books unless they can relate to the characters. The eleven-year-old protagonist, Martin Tinker, is a small town boy who experiences many of the same problems that a lot of students do: he's shy, he's a bit small in size, he's not athletic, and he's bullied by the son of the local sheriff. He prefers to spend time alone either exploring the woods near his home or studying in his lab (which is a seldom-used barn in his back yard).
The action in the story starts on the first pages, as Martin is chasing a butterfly into the local quarry and is nearly killed in a rock slide. As he emerges from the rocks, boulders and chunks of ice, he discovers "a smooth, oval object, a bit smaller than a football, grayish-brown and covered with ... were those speckles, or just chunks of dirt?"
Martin takes the object home along with other fossils he found. After a week, it becomes clear that the object is an egg because it hatches, and a baby lizard is born. But this isn't an ordinary lizard, it is a Tyrannosaurus rex:
"It was bigger than any baby lizard he knew of - a good foot and a half long from head to tail...its front legs were much smaller than its hind legs - too small to be useful for much of anything, it seemed. It was a grayish-brown color, and its head was too big for the rest of its body."
Since Martin is the only one around when the egg hatches, the lizard believes he is its mother. Martin names it "Rufus" after his father's brother. As Rufus grows larger and larger, he develops an insatiable appetite for meat. Martin has to get a job in order to pay for its food.
As the summer passes, Martin enjoys his "pet" along with his new friendship with Audrey. But it becomes more and more difficult to keep Rufus a secret. He's getting larger by the minute and outgrowing his space in the lower level of the barn, he's very noisy, and very hungry.
As all of these complications present themselves, the author does an awesome job of building suspense and excitement. I found myself becoming a bit stressed each time Rufus was on the verge of being discovered by one of Martin's parents. As Rufus grows bigger and bigger, it becomes clear that something needs to be done, but Martin isn't sure who to talk to about this. The action is very easy to visualize and I could definitely see this book being made into an exciting movie!
The character development in this book is very compelling. Readers will appreciate the changes in Martin as the story progresses. In the beginning of the book, he is very shy and has very little self-confidence. The needs of a rapidly growing baby dinosaur push Martin to get a job working among the people at the local carnival. He develops a friendship with Audrey, as she is a lot like himself and he needs to have someone he can trust with whom to share this experience. By the end of the book, we can see some significant changes in Martin that will help him as he goes forward into adolescence and adulthood.
I know that I have some students that will definitely enjoy this book. I will probably be purchasing more copies, because I'm sure there will be a waiting list for it!
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers