In Amy Sarig King’s new novel, “Me and Marvin Gardens,” a boy named Obe discovers a new type of animal. It has the jaw of a pig, the snout of a tapir (a large, hoglike mammal) and the friendly personality of a dog. Strangest of all: It eats plastic.
Obe is going through a tough time, and the creature becomes a good friend. He names it Marvin Gardens, after a property in his father’s favorite board game, Monopoly. Obe tries to keep Marvin Gardens a secret because he doesn’t want anyone to try to capture or hurt him. But Obe’s former best friend Tommy finds out about his pet.
“The novel draws almost completely on my own childhood experiences,” King said.
Like Obe, the author grew up in the country, close to Reading, Pennsylvania. She loved a nearby cornfield and creek, as does Obe. And she felt sadness and anger when developers bought the field and built houses on it, just as Obe does.
King even modeled Marvin Gardens after a dog she had more than 10 years ago. The dog, Stella, was “goofy and curious,” like Marvin, even if she didn’t eat plastic, King said.
In the book, Obe is bullied by Tommy and some of his new neighbors. They exclude him and call him a hippie because he tries to clean up the local creek.
King, too, was bullied as a kid. Like Obe, she was even punched in the nose.
When she visits schools, King frequently talks about friendship and bullying and how to deal with unkind people. She encourages students to share their ideas for helping the environment.
“I’m always so impressed by . . . how much they know about recycling, especially,” she said.
Obe’s science teacher, Ms. G, talks to her students about pollution and recycling. Across the United States, Earth Day is celebrated April 22. But Ms. G decides that April should be Earth Month, and she shares a fact a day to help her students learn more about, and appreciate, the Earth.
As she researched interesting facts, King made a discovery that changed the way she consumed water.
“It takes a plastic bottle 500 years to decompose, and Americans throw away 2.5 million of these bottles per hour,” she said.
King decided to get a reusable bottle for water — and so do many of her readers, she added.
Saturday is Earth Day, and, like Obe and Ms. G, you might celebrate by helping the Earth. Obe picks up trash in the creek. Ms. G shares important facts with others. What would you like to do?
This year, King and her family will celebrate with a furry friend. After years of not having a pet, King recently brought a cat into their home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
Writing about Marvin Gardens “reminded me of how lovely it is to share my life with animals,” she said.