Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 818
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The thread tying all of the characters in this novel together is the plight of the burrowing owls and whether they will be destroyed to make way for the Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House that is supposed to be built on top of their homes. The champion of environmentalism in the story comes in the unlikely form of the runaway boy Mullet Fingers, who pulls harmless pranks and shows remarkable tenacity is his campaign to prevent the owls from being killed. The owls themselves—tiny, cute, just trying to live their lives—also rally the readers to the cause of protecting nature. The owls and those who try to save them are portrayed in a positive light, whereas the pancake company is portrayed as conniving, cruel, and heartless; this promotes the message that protecting nature and preserving the environment as an important fight.
The antagonist in the story is the corporate official who plots to get his pancake house built even if it means destroying protected wildlife. Humorously named Chuck Muckle, this company man ignores the mandates set forth to protect nature and innocent life; instead, he bullies the foreman to continue the construction project. He represents the pancake company’s greed and villainy, which is emphasized at the end of the story as Muckle throws a fit when Roy and his friends succeed in stopping the construction. The disingenuous nature of the corporate world is further seen when the pancake house apologizes for the misunderstanding with the owls: in an insincere act meant to repair the bad public relations from the protest at the site, it offers to donate money to the lot to preserve it as a “Nature Conservancy” spot. The company and those who run it are motivated by money and business success; they are portrayed as callous and heartless individuals who only do the right thing if it promotes their business interests.
Courage is displayed by numerous characters throughout the book. Roy Eberhardt is hearteningly brave when it comes to standing up to the intimidating bully, Dana Matherson. He manages to break Dana’s nose when he punches him, then he has the courage to go to Dana’s house and apologize. Later, in an elaborate plot, Roy manages to frame Dana for the pancake house pranks. His creativity and willingness to stand up to Dana show great courage. Mullet Fingers displays courage as he pulls pranks at the pancake house site and also has he forges his own way in a world where his mother doesn’t really want or care for him. His spunk motivates those around him to also fight for good causes. The novel asserts that courage comes in the form of standing up for what is right, even if it means doing scary things, and that courage can come in the most unexpected forms.
At the beginning of the novel, Roy is a loner without many friends. However, as the story progresses, he seeks out and nurtures friendships in unusual people. Despite appearances, friends can be found if you truly work at it, and Roy manages to befriend some rather tough characters. The friendships provide strength as they support each other through difficult family situations and accomplish great feats. Roy gives Beatrice support in her rough home life, and Beatrice helps Roy deal with the bullies at school; they work together to protect Mullet Fingers and the owls.
Roy is the only character who has a good home life with supporting and loving parents. Roy loves his parents, and they have a good relationship with each other. The other main characters in the novel have parents who are abusive, rough, uncaring, or downright negligent. Even though the bad parents are painted in a humorous light, there is a serious undercurrent, especially as Beatrice has to battle against her stepmother’s tantrums. Beatrice stays at Roy’s house to escape her stepmother’s wrath, and readers feel sorry that children are subjected to such treatment by the people who should be their caregivers. Roy’s situation shows the happiness and stability that can come from a strong family. The advice and support that Roy gets from his parents guide him in crucial decisions throughout the novel, and his parents help him in his endeavors.
The main battle in the novel occurs between people who stand up for principles and what is right and those who are unprincipled or refuse to stand up for the right. It is a unique novel in that the ones standing up for what is right are children; they provide positive examples and inspiration to the adults around them. The novel shows that a person can make a difference no matter how young they are or how insignificant they may think they are. It only took three kids to make a serious and positive change in their community.