Monday, December 02, 2019

MMGM- Dog Driven

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Dog Driven
December 3rd 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ARC provided by Blue Slip Media

McKenna's family keeps sled dogs, since her mother was a musher when she was young, and McKenna loves to race. Her mother, however, is busy taking care of her younger sister, Emma, whose sight is limited due to the effects of Stargardt Disease. This is an inherited condition, and McKenna has started to realize the tell tale signs that she herself is developing it. Despite this, she is determined to participate in the Great Superior Mail Run race across the Canadian wilderness because her sister wants her to. McKenna has been hiding her symptoms from her family and friends for months, determined not to be treated with the care her sister is afforded, which signals weakness to her. If she can pretend nothing is wrong, the way people treat her won't change. Still, the race is challenging, and she is beginning to doubt herself. Luckily, when she gets involved in the race, she gets help at various points from two mushers, Guy and Harper. Guy's family has raced dogs for generations, and he hopes to bring business to his father's failing delivery concern by winning the race. Harper's father wants her to win for much the same reason. While Guy enjoys racing, Harper does not. For a long time, McKenna is able to hide her condition from them, but eventually has to tell them when things go wrong with the race.
Strengths: In addition to wonderful details about sled dog racing in the frigid Canadian wilderness, this shows McKenna's realistic internal struggle about her impending dimunition of sight. Part of me thought that no child would fail to tell their parents about a serious health concern, but... the writing made me believe her motivations. I wish there were more books about children not wanting to appear weak! The friendships with Harper, and especially with Guy, were a nice touch, because they were all able to help each other even though they were competing, and helping each other out made the race a more pleasant and successful competition (which reminder me of this track and field event years ago). Even the detail of McKenna's parents having a different reaction to Emma's challenges and fighting about it was oddly interesting. Of course, the excitement and action of the race keeps the health concerns from slowing down the story. Great mix of things!
Weaknesses: There are a selection of historical and modern letters between chapters that didn't seem to add much to the story. Vaguely interesting, but I always wanted to get back to McKenna!
What I really think: My first reaction to reading a book by Johnson is always to think "Wow. She writes a MUCH better survival/dog sled book than Gary Paulsen!" Seriously. Paulsen has untapped depths for humorous books, but Johnson is the new leader of the pack for books set in the Canadian wilderness. I love that most of her books are stand alones, and the covers are always fantastic. I had to buy a replacement copy for Ice Dogs (2014) because it was in tatters. This one will be just as popular, and I loved it in the strange way I loved Butler's 1962 Light a Single Candle.

Beer, Julie and Lin, Chelsea. Brain Candy: 500 Sweet Facts to Satisfy Your Curiosity
October 8th 2019 by National Geographic Society
Copy provided by Media Masters Publicity in exchange for review

This small (6 and 1/2" square) book is packed with all sorts of random information! The brightly colored photographs are enhanced by text, sidebars and additional information in a way that always makes me want to take books like this apart and make them into bulletin boards, even though that would mean having to buy another copy for students to read.

Unlike some of these compendia, Brain Candy isn't thematically arranged; you can open it up anywhere, gobble down a fact, and move on to something else. The topics are interesting, and I found myself filing away information like the fact that Africa is large enough to fit China, India, Eastern Europe AND the US within its borders! A handy index at the back helps to locate information.

There are a number of these National Geographic books, such as Weird But True: Surprising Stories of Every Day Stuff, Weird But True USA and Weird But True Christmas that make great gifts and are handy to keep in the car for long rides. Who knows what SAT question children might be able to answer just because they spent long hours poring over these random facts!
Ms. Yingling


  1. Better than Gary Paulson, wow! I really need to check Dog Driven out. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Ok, you convinced me to read Dog Driven, especially since Terry Lynn Johnson is Canadian.

  3. I'm definitely adding Dog Driven to my list, but this review reminds me that I still need to read Ice Dogs, also by Terry Lynn Johnson. I have the book on my home shelves and have been meaning to fit it in somewhere. Great reviews!

  4. Great reviewers think alike and we have similar thoughts about Dog Driven with our reviews today. I also enjoyed Brain Candy.

  5. What a neat coincidence—Greg Pattridge also recommended Dog Driven today! You make a great point that more books should explore children's attempts to seem strong and conceal their struggles. Brain Candy also sounds like a fun read! Thanks so much for the review!

  6. I also enjoyed Dog Driven this week and agree about the letters between chapters. I totally believed that a child would not tell parents about a medical condition though. My oldest would totally do that. She walked around with a nail in her foot for several hours after stepping on it at daycare. After a while, I caught her limping when she thought I wasn't watching. Yes, daycare. She was four years old. Didn't want to show weakness and has not changed. It was a very good book!

  7. I have to get a copy of Dog Driven. I love her books and this looks like another good one. I'm afraid the sweets book would just make me hungry. Not a good idea. Thanks for the reviews.

    1. It actually didn't have anything about actual candy. I was a little disappointed! Just fun facts.

  8. I enjoy the National Geographic books that I managed to get my hands on - looks like the second book you featured is also a keeper. :)