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The Care and Keeping of Freddy

About The Book

For fans of Kate DiCamillo and Sharon Creech comes this “both raw and warm in its compassionate telling” (Publishers Weekly) middle grade novel about a young girl, her pet bearded dragon, and the friends who make her summer one to remember.

Georgia Weathers’s worry machine has been on full blast since her mom, Blythe, took off in Lyle Lenczycki’s blue sedan. Earlier that same day, Blythe gave Georgia a bearded dragon named Freddy. Georgia is convinced that if she loves Freddy enough, Blythe will come home.

Georgia isn’t the only one with family predicaments. Her friend Maria Garcia’s parents have merrily moved out of the house and into a camper in the yard. Roland Park is the new boy in town. As a kid in the foster care system staying with the Farley family, he’s sure his stay is temporary. When the three friends discover an abandoned glass house in the forest, it becomes their secret hideout: a place all their own, free of parents and problems. But glass can be broken.

When everything around them feels out of their control, the question becomes what can they hold on to? And what do they have to let go? It turns out, there are some things—and lizards—they can count on.


Chapter 1 Chapter 1

Give Freddy a Better Life.”

It was January when Georgia Weathers wrote that note and taped it to the side of Freddy’s tank. Now, somehow, it was June. The ink had faded, the paper had curled. Freddy’s life was not better. And if Patty van Winkle just said what Georgia thought she said, then things were about to get worse.

Georgia’s best friend, Maria Elena Garcia, stood beside her at the Pet Stop pet shop. Maria lifted her eyebrows, poked up her glasses, and frowned around the pen between her teeth.

Georgia swallowed hard. “Did you say… hissing… cockroaches?”

Ay Dios mío,” Maria muttered as she pushed aside a lock of black hair that dropped as if in shock across her cheek. Maria’s family was from Mexico, on her father’s side. Her mother was from Mexico, too—the town of Mexico, Maine! Maria liked to copy her grandmother’s dramatic expressions when circumstances called for them.

“Correct!” said Patty van Winkle. “There’s a tristate shortage of crickets.”

Maria popped the pen from her mouth, flicked her hair back, and flipped open a small, spiral-bound notebook. “Innnteresting,” she muttered. “Definitely jot-worthy.” Maria declared many things interesting and jot-worthy. Many things caused Maria’s dark eyes to sharpen behind the pink plastic frames of her eyeglasses. She longed to be a writer of romance, or possibly suspense.

“Don’t you worry, Georgia,” Patty van Winkle said. “Bearded dragons aren’t as picky as you’d think. Freddy will gobble ’em right up. No problem. Right as rain. A bug’s a bug.”

Georgia felt a bobble in her chest. It felt—gulp—like a bug. Why was it that cockroaches seemed infinitely worse than crickets? And hissing cockroaches seemed much worse than regular, non-hissing ones. “I have to think about the… the nutritional alternative.”

“All righty, then.” Patty put a box of what were almost certainly cockroaches onto the counter as if Georgia didn’t have any choice about buying them, which, she supposed, she didn’t. “You’ll see,” Patty said, “cockroaches will suit Freddy’s reptilian palate. They’ll warm his cold-blooded heart.”

Blythe—Georgia’s mother—had always been fond of surprises. The day Georgia got Freddy, Patty van Winkle had accepted delivery of a bearded dragon by mistake. “The Pet Stop does not handle this sort of unique, one-of-a-kind exotic creature,” Patty told Georgia’s mother that day. They all three stared at the baby lizard, with his warty hide and a jagged edge of spines along his throat. “I’ll be shipping him back, pronto.”

“Oh no you will not, Patty van Winkle.” Georgia’s mother had knelt before Georgia in the pet shop. Blonde curled hair fell shining to her shoulders. Her coral-pink lipstick had gotten onto her teeth, which Georgia could plainly see because of how her mother was smiling in a big way that made Georgia feel strange in her stomach, as if she’d swallowed an ice cube whole. Blythe’s cotton dress was crisp and pretty under her pink cardigan sweater, and it had little buttons all up and down the front, from the collar to the hem above the knee. “I am determined to purchase this exotic creature for my daughter,” her mother had said, “to have and to hold.”

“She ain’t gonna marry it, Blythe,” said Patty.

Blythe smiled, cupping Georgia’s chin. “This lizard represents my love for you.”

“Cold-blooded?” said Patty.

Blythe stared straight into Georgia’s eyes. “Undying,” she said.

“Says here”—Patty was scanning a pamphlet marked The Care and Keeping of Your Bearded Dragon—“they live eight to fifteen years in captivity. What do you suppose happens after that?”

Blythe’s eyes narrowed, and she sliced a glare at Patty. “Eight years, fifteen years—who cares? It’s a lifetime.” She turned back to Georgia. “It’s forever.” Then she kissed Georgia’s cheeks, smack-smack, and stood up. “Georgia,” she said, “you will remember this day.”

Georgia remembered, all right. That was the day Blythe left town with Lyle Lenczycki.

Now a clacking, shifting, scrabbling noise came from the cardboard box. A noise like pebbles shifting underfoot, pulled by a wave at the beach. Georgia sighed, although Blythe had always frowned on sighing: “You sound like a little old lady at all of eight and a half.” Georgia was eleven now, and had gone on to sigh many times. Sighing cooled her internal worry machine.

Hissing cockroaches. Freddy’s life was definitely worse.

About The Author

Photo courtesy of the author

Susan Hill Long is the author of Josie Bloom and the Emergency of LifeThe Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket SquirrelThe Care and Keeping of Freddy; and Whistle in the Dark, which Publishers Weekly said “sings with graceful recurring motifs, true emotions, and devastating observations about the beauty that can be found in the darkest hours” in a starred review. It was named a best book of the year by Bank Street and Publishers Weekly. Susan lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. Learn more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (October 19, 2021)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534475199
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 640L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ W These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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Raves and Reviews

"An honest, accessibly written look at family and the challenges of loving people who may prove hurtful, one that’s both raw and warm in its compassionate telling."

Publishers Weekly

"A sincere story of caring and community in the face of family struggles."


Georgia is given Freddy, a bearded dragon, as a pet by her mother, Blythe, who abandons her that very same day.

Blythe runs away with her boyfriend, Lyle, leaving Georgia with her quiet, devoted father, Stanley. Georgia, 11, longs for Blythe to return—and makes Freddy a proxy for her mother’s love, vowing to do her best for him. Georgia’s life is further upended when a larger-than-life boy arrives in their small Maine town, a foster child taken in by a highly religious family. Roly’s acquaintance with Georgia and her best friend, Maria, begins after he steals a cat collar from the pet store. Despite witnessing this shocking event, the girls become good friends with him, and the three find a secret refuge in the woods, a glass house that ultimately becomes a danger zone. Strong friendships, parental love (and neglect), and resilient children feature in this slice-of-contemporary-small-town life. Georgia copes with her situation through help from peers and sympathetic adult friends (Maria’s paternal grandmother plays an important role, giving Georgia loving advice). This is a realistic, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad family story; while Blythe has problems with alcohol, both Stanley and Lyle turn out to be good fathers. The book follows a White default for most characters; Maria is Mexican American.

A sincere story of caring and community in the face of family struggles.

– Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2021

On the day Georgia Weathers’s mother, Blythe, leaves their small Maine town with an old flame, Blythe buys Georgia a bearded dragon, Freddy. One year and eight months later, now 11-year-old Georgia, who is white, and her best friend Maria Elena Garcia, who is Mexican American, meet Roland Park, a redheaded new arrival in Prospect Harbor. When Roland, a foster child, shoplifts from the pet shop, the girls chase after him, and a friendship is born. And Georgia will need her friends when her mother announces that she, her new husband, and Rosie, Georgia’s baby half sister, are moving back to town. Georgia loves Rosie on first sight, but her plan to shove her stepfather out of the picture and reunite her parents proves difficult as her mother becomes increasingly challenging and requests more of Georgia. Over the course of the summer, Georgia and her friends must lean on one another as they each face different family struggles. Long (Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life) offers an honest, accessibly written look at family and the challenges of loving people who may prove hurtful, one that’s both raw and warm in its compassionate telling. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

– Publishers Weekly, September 13, 2021

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • Oregon Book Award Finalist

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More books from this author: Susan Hill Long