Out for the Count is a title from the Little Gems series I mentioned recently. The real strength of this story comes from the unresolved ending. This is an unusual plot device in a book designed for beginning readers but it totally works because at the end of this book you simply have to have a conversation.
- Will Hugo still want a gerbil?
- Will Hugo's dad change his mind and let Hugo have a gerbil?
- Did Hugo learn anything about care of pets from the one hour and 28 minutes in his room?
- Why did Anne Fine finish the story with Hugo running free?
- What would you have done in Hugo's room to pass the time?
- What three toys would you take with you and why?
- How would things have been different if the floor was covered with comics?
- Would you have been tempted to climb out of the window?
- Do you look at the life of your own pet in a different way after reading Out for the Count.
Hugo wants a gerbil. He is desperate. His father says no.
"Think of the gerbil. How would you like to spend your whole life stuck in a cage?"
"I'd let it out," Hugo said.
"But you're at school all day."
Hugo counted on his fingers. I'm only out for seven hours," he said.
And so Hugo and his dad make a bargain. Hugo will stay alone in his room for seven hours from midday until evening. He is allowed food, water, three toys and all the newspaper that's spread over the floor because his father has been painting Hugo's bedroom.
Time ticks slowly when you are watching the clock. Perhaps Hugo did not make such good choices with his three toys - a ghost puppet, a dancing monkey on a stick and a box of baby bricks. Hugo does try hard. He rations his food and plays with his toys and he even imagines he is at sea on a raft or under an orange tree in Spain but in the end he does not even last two hours in his "cage".
This is a warm story with bright illustrations by Vicki Gausden. Anne Fine has two other titles in the Little Gem series. You should also look for her classic stories Flour Babies and Bill's New Frock.