Monday, April 30, 2012

Middle Grade Monday--Be Kind to Animals

Ibbotson, Eva. One Dog and His Boy.
Hal has always wanted a dog, but his spoiled, rich parents will give him anything but. When his father gets the idea to rent a dog from Easy Dogs, assuming that Hal will get tired of the animal by the time it has to go back, Hal ends up bonding with Fleck and being distraught when the dog is returned. He is so distraught, in fact, that he goes to the business with the idea of stealing the pet. Luckily, the kind assistant's sister, Pippa, is working that day, and not only frees Fleck, but lets several other dogs go as well. When they all follow Hal and he can't get on the train to his grandparents', he calls Pippa and the two of them take off across England with the dogs. They end up in all sorts of unusual places-- a traveling dog circus, and orphange, and a farm. The dogs, all of whom were traumatized both by being removed from families after a day or two AND by not being able to do their work as dogs, all find soul mates along the way, but continue with the group. Will Hal's grandparents take them in? What will happen to Easy Pets? And will Hal and Fleck get to stay together?
Strengths: This was surprisingly charming. Ibbotson's fantasy books were never my favorite, but this last effort of hers (she passed away at age 85 in 2010) is extremely touching and full of adventure. Definitely buying for my increasing number of students wanting dog stories.
Weaknesses: Hal's parents are over the top; I would have enjoyed the story if they hadn't been so cartoonlike.

Bauer, Marion Dane. Little Dog, Lost.
Atheneum, 1 May 2012
Mark has always wanted a dog, but his overworked, single mother has always said "NO!" very firmly. He decides that since he can't have a dog, he should get the town where he lives (and where his mother is mayor) to put in a dog park so that at least the dogs he knows are happy. At the same time, Buddy the dog is left with a woman in town by his loving boy who has to move to the city. While the woman takes care of his needs, she doesn't understand Buddy, who know that her boy is out there somewhere and so digs under the fence and escapes. Also in town is lonely Charles Larue, the caretaker of a big house on extensive grounds in the middle of town. Of course, the three manage to get together. Can Mark find a dog, Buddy a home, and Charles a reason to get out of bed in the morning?
Strengths: Very sad, but ultimately happy. The illustrations are very sweet, and Mark's longing for a dog and Buddy's longing for his boy are palpaple. My dog got lots of tummy rubs while I was reading this!
Weaknesses: Novel in verse, for no particularly good reason. Read aloud, you would not know it was verse. Since students (at least in my school!) literally shrink back from books with pages that look like poetry, I don't know why this was used. Perhaps this will go over better with younger students.

Reisfeld, Randi. What the Dog Said.
Grace is helping out her older sister with a college application project-- adopting a dog from a shelter and training it to be a service dog. Regan isn't very interested in the dog part, and since she is into fashion, is tending toward a cute little maltipoo. One of the dogs, however, TALKS to Grace and asks to be taken home. Grace is so taken aback that she agrees, and Rex goes home. Regan feels that Grace needs the distraction of the dog because while the family has suffered after the shooting death of their policeman father, Grace has taken it the hardest. Grace takes Rex to be trained and runs into JJ, who may know who was responsible for Grace's father's death. As Rex becomes trained, Grace tries to figure out how JJ was involved. Can she make peace with Rex, JJ, and the past, and move on with her life?
Strengths: This has a little of everything going on-- some good dog training, a little mystery, and a problem as well. I love the cover!
Weaknesses: Does the talking dog send this over to sci fi/fantasy? I imagine it does. Or does Grace just think that the dog is talking to her? Hmmm.

Harris, R.P. Tua and the Elephant.Chronicle Books, May 2012
Tua lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with her very busy single mother. Tua's favorite thing is to visit the market, and one day while there she finds a young elephant who is being abused. Of course, she takes the elephant with her, and goes to her Auntie Orchid's house, and the two decide to take the elephant, which Tua names Pohn-Pohn , to the religious order that Auntie's brother is joining, because it has more room. They manage to evade the elephant's irate owners, and are eventually put into contact with an elephant sanctuary, where Pohn-Pohn is welcome to stay. Will Tua get to be with her new found friend?
Strengths: This is a charming book and a nicely atmospheric story about an exotic (to us!) part of the world. The illustrations by Taeeun Yoo remind me of ones from my literature books in grade school-- very nice.
Weaknesses: This is also a bit young for my students but would be great for elementary libraries.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, a feature started by Shannon Whitney Messenger. See the round-up over at her blog, Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.
And here's a random question for the day: Which fictional pet would you like to have for your own? Even though I don't like rodents, I always wanted a white mouse like Miss Bianca from Margery Sharp's The Rescuers. (Still in print; just bought a beautiful hard cover copy.) We even named a hamster Miss Bianca. I think it was the Garth WIlliams' illustrations.


  1. Animal books always grab my heart, not necessarily the talking animal ones, but ones where the animal and person have a special bond. Just the title of One Dog and His Boy is enough for me.

  2. OMG, I love Miss Bianca! I still have my well-worn copy 8 or 9! Yes, yes, I wanted a white mouse just like her.

    Great reviews, as always. The only one I've read is What the Dog Said. Love the cover of the Marion Dane Bauer one - so adorable. And the plot of the Ibbotson reminds me a bit of A Dog for Life by L.S. Matthews.

  3. I enjoyed Tua and the Elephant too.