Literary Criticism and Significance
Whittington is a charming book that is easily a good read for children ages eight and up; it is entertaining for animal and history lovers alike. Whittington won a Newbery Honor Award when it was published in 2005. It charmed critics with its uplifting tale about valuable animals and humans. Critics describe it as a “superior novel” with a “deft interweaving” and “skillful intertwining” of three storylines—the animals in the barn, Ben’s triumph in learning to read, and the famous merchant Dick Whittington. Because of its focus on animal characters that have priceless friendships with their human masters, it has been compared to Charlotte's Web and The Tale of Despereaux, with similar charm and endearing characters, but it has been noted that this story is completely original and will stand on its own as a classic for years to come. Although the animals that talk to and interact with humans, reviewers felt that the animals still felt “genuine” and had actions that are “consistent with their species and grounded in reality.”
The book informs readers, in an accessible and interesting way, of life in medieval times, and doing so using the adventures of a cat makes it even more engaging and easy to grasp, especially for younger readers. By the end of the story, readers have learned much about the lifestyle of fourteenth-century people along with trading and the business of being a merchant. In addition to the information conveyed, the novel has been praised as being “full of homey wisdom and quirky characters” that make the tale both entertaining and endearing.
Many readers who struggle with learning disorders will relate to Ben’s struggle to overcome his disability, which some reviewers called a “healthy dose of inspiration.” On the other hand, some critics felt that Ben’s journey through his struggle was “forced and didactic.” For young readers, however, the message is simply positive and encouraging. Reviewers found Armstrong’s writing style “graceful,” “calm and beautiful,” and one that “reads aloud beautifully,” which serves well for classroom story time or parent–child reading activities. The historical content will surely keep adult readers interested if they participate in reading the story aloud to their younger children or students, and the animal relationships will keep the kids clamoring for more.