Sunday morning means banana-nut muffins, so why has Dr. Agard broken the routine? Why did he decide to take a nap on the floor? Why doesn’t he praise his parrot Zeno’s accomplishments like usual? The professor’s African grey parrot grows impatient, noisy, and destructive as he tries to wake his “servant.” When the professor’s assistant and men in blue arrive and take Dr. Agard away, Zeno decides to fly out the front door and find a new “servant” and banana-nut muffins for himself.
Accustomed to a life of muffins, Greek philosophy, and praise, how will Zeno survive in the wilds of Brooklyn, New York? Though well-versed in 127 words and 64 sounds, Zeno is ignorant of such things as home, friendship, and basic survival. He is puffed up with pride in his own beauty and brilliance, and his favorite words are “Zeno wants!” Everything begins to change, however, after Zeno’s blunderings and muffin-cravings lead him to the bedroom window of a girl recovering from leukemia.
Alya used to be active and outgoing, used to play sports and climb monkey bars, used to have a laugh that outshone a whisper. Now, though, she lies still in her bedroom, engulfed by a hospital bed. She is too weak to climb the house stairs, too dispirited to try. Her mother, father, her brother Parker, and her friends Kiki and Liza try to cheer her up, but they never know what to say or how to help. That’s why, when hungry Zeno taps at her window, asks for her banana-nut muffins, and urges her to “try!” to get them for him, Alya doesn’t forget the parrot. After Alya’s mother Mrs. Logan sends the parrot packing, Alya still remembers Zeno’s exhortation and realizes that she has lost the power to “try” and wants to regain it. Maybe Zeno can help, if she can ever find him again.
Soon the main characters of The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley are caught up in difficulties which will teach them about home, friendship, strength, and themselves – and which will hopefully teach their audience as well.
P.S. I wanted to share this yummy banana-nut muffin recipe I enjoyed just this past weekend. Zeno would undoubtedly relish it. Check it out here at Crafty Cooking Mama.
P.P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about one of this book’s references to ancient philosophy, read Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship.” The final paragraph of the essay relates to a concept which I first encountered in The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya about a friend being “another I.” I think Bacon expounds quite well on what this can mean. This connection between something I learned in a children’s book and from a 17th century English philosopher is another reason why I enjoyed Zeno and Alya and why I love reading widely.