Monday, October 02, 2023

MMGM-- Dogtown and Susie King Taylor

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

I love it when books surprise me, as it doesn't happen often. The format of Dogtown threw me. The cover, as well as the large print and amount of white space, led me to believe that this would be more along the lines of Selfors' Wedgie and Gizmo. You know, a cute dog story for early elementary school readers. There are definitely cute moments, but there's also a LOT more depth than I was expecting! It's definitely more of a middle grade book, and I'd give it to fourth grade readers and up. With the prevalence of ChatGPT, Metal Head's story will resonate with readers who question what it means to have feelings and emotions. 

Applegate, K.A. and Choldenko, Gennifer. Dogtown
September 19, 2023 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Chance is a three legged dog who has the run of the Dogtown Shelter after the Management thinks that he is a lucky charm in her weekly shelter poker game, and tells our story. The Dogtown shelter is unusual because it also has electronic pet dogs. Chance is conflicted about this, since the electronic dogs increase foot traffic and have boosted adoption rates for real dogs as well, and there are great social media opportunities in showing the two types of canines together. Chance feels that his job is to help out all of the dogs, and he is concerned about two in particular. Geraldine is an older Saint Bernard with creaky joints who has been at the shelter for a long time, and Metal Head is a robotic dog who seems to be suffering from the Boo Hoos. This is a phenomenon where dogs tell themselves that their owners will soon come for them. Chance has experience with this; his own backstory is a harrowing one. He had a loving home with Jessie and her mother, Professor Besser, but was left with a dog sitter who allowed him to be in an accident which resulted in the loss of a leg. Instead of caring for the dog, the dog sitter and her boyfriend set him out on his own, claiming that he ran away! Chance has made peace with not being reunited with his family, although he still has their love in the back of his mind. Metal Head, however, is insistent that he escape and get home to his boy. He has a surprising amount of success in Reading Buddies when Mr. Molinari brings in Quentin. Chance tries to get the boy interested in books to no avail (Quentin exhibits qualities that may put him on the autism spectrum), but Metal Head lets him read Green Eggs and Ham over and over. Metal Head seems to be enjoying himself as well, but when the book goes missing, Quentin is so unsettled that he gets suspended from the program. Metal Head makes a deal with Chance; if he comes up with an idea to save Geraldine, who goes onto The List (Dogtown is not a no-kill shelter), Chance and a friendly mouse will help him escape. Geraldine gets adopted at the last minute, and soon the trio are on their way across town to Metal Head's home. When they get there, Chance sees what has happened. Jimmy, Metal Head's boy, is a teenager, and viewed Metal Head as an embarrassing toy, while Metal Head seems to have evolved with real emotions (as well as the ability to speak human AND dog). There's some tossing into trunks, narrow escapes, an overnight in a furniture store, a return to the shelter, and a surprising result. Chance takes the opportunity to go to Jessie and Professor Besser's house. Will he be able to go home again? 
Strengths: I have thought too much about robotic dogs, especially after my dog Sylvie died. Since I had my last cell phone for eight years... well, let's just say that this book had a LOT of topics to think about! The depiction of the shelter, and of what the dogs did in order to get adopted, was realistic and heartbreaking, and I loved that there were tips at the back of the book about helping dogs get adopted! Chance's story is utterly heartbreaking, and while I don't want to spoil anything, the ending is happy! Metal Head's plot arc is absolutely fascinating, and was so suprising! This would actually be a really excellent choice for a lit circle title or class read aloud, especially if used in conjunction with a service learning project. 
Weaknesses: The beginning of the book seemed so completely different from the second half that it confused me just a little. I want to see a finished copy of this to compare, as the format might have been affected by the e book dynamics. 
What I really think: Already have a copy on my list to order, although I won't be able to hand it to one reader who adored dog books, because he's at the high school now. It is DEFINITELY an inferior design to have a heart! 

Buford, Candace and Dunbar, Erica Armstrong.
Susan King Taylor: Nurse, Teacher, and Freedom Fighter.
September 26, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Born in 1848, Susan King was fortunate to be able to stay with her grandmother and not on the Grest Farm near Savannah where her mother worked as an enslaved person. Her  grandmother made sure that Susan and her younger brother got an education and were able to read and write, although this was against the law at the time. When the Civil War broke out and came close to the farm, Susan's uncle and aunt decided to flee. The group made their way to find Union troops, and eventually ended up on St. Simons Island where Susan got to work doing laundry, but also teaching. She met Edward Taylor there, and the two eventually married. In 1862, they evacuated the island. Susan continued to work all manner of jobs, and even served as a battlefield nurse. After the war, she lived in Boston, continued to teach, and wrote a memoir of her Civil War experience in 1902. This short memoir is included at the end of Buford and Dunbar's biography, which is told in the first person. 
Strengths: One of my favorite series in fourth grade was the Childhood of Famous Americans books, and the beginning of this was strongly reminscent of those. There's a lot of information about the Civil War that will appeal to readers who are interested in that conflict, and a good account of what it was likfe for Blacks who were working to help the Union side. They were not treated fairly, and this is definitely brought up in very effective ways. The information about what King Taylor did after the war is interesting, and having her memoir at the end of the book will save readers from having to locate it elsewhere. I'm always looking for biographies of interesting people who aren't as well known, and this was a perfect example of the sort of book I am seeking! 
Weaknesses: The biography aligns very closely to the memoir, so I almost wish this had been a completely fictional tale that included more details about life at the time. There's value in having either format, but Buford's Kneel was so good that it would have been interesting to see how she would have written this as fiction. 
What I really think: I'd love to see more biographies like this, and keep hoping for books about Pansy Flemmie Kittrell, the home economist, or Margaret Murray Washington, wife of Booker T. and principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. 


  1. Well, Dogtown certainly has an intriguing premise, glad you shared a lot about it and it will go on my list! Thanks for the new bio, too. It sounds like those who enjoy nf books will love this new one! Have a great week ahead, Karen!

  2. I keep seeing Dogtown and almost picking it up! Your review makes me think I'd really enjoy it. :) Happy MMGM!

  3. I love dog stories but probably would have passed on this one based on the cover. Thanks for your insightful review as I've now added the title to my future read list. I hope you have had a Happy MMGM!

  4. Thanks for the heads up about Dogtown. I am now keen to read it, even though I am not a big fan of dogs. (I do like taking a friend's dog for a walk, but I'm not responsible for it except then!)

  5. I'd love to see a biography on Margaret Murray Washington!

  6. I always think of Kipling's poem 'Never give your heart to a dog to tear'... (but I think they're worth it!). Will have to add Dogtown to my TBR after that review! Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. I'm actually intrigued with Dog Town despite me not liking animals but it sounds perfect for fans of The Wild Robot and anyone who enjoyed her Ivan books.

  8. I'm happy to report my library has Dogtown and I just reserved it. It sounds terrific. Thanks for the post.

  9. Kellee Moye11:20 PM EDT

    Very intrigued by Dogtown and always looking for new NF for my library. Thank you for sharing! :-)

  10. I suspect I will be reading Dogtown soon. And my upper elementary book club usually does at least one nonfiction pick.