Duke

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for the past couple of weeks. (If you didn’t notice, well…I don’t know what to do with that.) Anyway, I promise I have very good reasons for my absence. Beginning-of-school-year craziness (technology is a you-know-what when it doesn’t work right), home repairs, and minor illnesses have been to blame. Simply put, even the energy to read left me until just a couple of days ago. With any luck, I’ve turned a corner.

Now, on with the show…

Thursday evening, I manged to finish another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This book, Duke by Kirby Larson, is also one of my county’s Battle of the Books titles. So, even though it’s a dreaded “dog book,” I knew I had to read it, and, like so many others before it, Duke wasn’t the chore of a read that I anticipated. It was actually kind of sweet, and it shed a bit of light on something I’d never really heard of before, the Dogs for Defense program of World War II.

It’s 1944, and Hobie Hanson is doing what he can for the war effort at home. With his dad fighting in Europe, Hobie is the man of the house, and he tries to help his country in ways both small and large. Hobie’s feeling the pressure, though, to do something bigger than anything he’s ever considered–donate his beloved dog, Duke, to the war effort.

The Dogs for Defense program asks Americans to donate their well-trained family pets to the armed forces–as guard and patrol dogs and even bomb sniffers. Hobie knows that Duke is an excellent prospect for this program…but he doesn’t want to let go of his dog. Isn’t it enough that his dad is fighting in this war? Does Hobie have to put his dog in danger as well?

Eventually, Hobie gives in and loans Duke to the Marines…and immediately wants to change his mind. In fact, he does everything he can think of to get Duke home. Hobie even betrays a new friend in his quest to be reunited with Duke. None of his efforts work, and Hobie decides to be brave and deal with his situation as best he can…and that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Soon, Hobie will realize that there are many different kinds of bravery. His father, who is in more danger than ever, is brave for leaving his home and fighting for his country. Duke is brave when he follows orders and keeps others safe. But maybe Hobie is brave, too. Maybe loaning Duke to the Marines–even though he didn’t want to–was brave. Maybe looking after his mom and little sister is brave. And maybe apologizing to his new friend and standing by his side is brave.

Will Hobie’s bravery be enough to hold things together until he’s reunited with those he loves? Will his father come home soon? Will Duke?

Discover just how much bravery and love mean to a boy, his dog, his family, and those around him when you read Duke by Kirby Larson!

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Given that I don’t usually favor dog books or historical fiction, I liked Duke more than expected. It was at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. Truthfully, this was more Hobie’s story than Duke’s, and that probably factored into my feelings on it. It examined what one eleven-year-old boy likely faced while his father was fighting in World War II. Hobie was asked to take on more responsibility than a kid should…and do it without complaining or thinking of what he really wanted. (That’s kind of hard to fathom today.) He didn’t want to loan Duke to the Marines, but he did it anyway. Yes, he regretted his decision and looked for a way out of it, but he eventually realized it was for the greater good. I don’t know many dog owners today who would have done that.

I think Duke would be a great World War II novel study in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. It highlights the rather unknown Dogs for Defense program, and that could lead readers to further research. It could also lead them to examine their own feelings on what they would or wouldn’t give up for an important cause.

Those who read Duke may also want to take a look at another book by Kirby Larson, Dash. This book, which also takes place during World War II, focuses on a Japanese-American girl who is separated from her dog when the girl and her family are sent to an internment camp. Even though Dash is also one of those dreaded “dog books,” I think this book would provide an interesting perspective on what Japanese-American children experienced during World War II. At any rate, it’s moved near the top of my school to-read list.

If you’d like more information on Duke, Dash, and other books by Kirby Larson, check out the author’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You may also want to take a quick look at the video below. In it, Kirby Larson herself talks a bit about Duke.

Mountain Dog

Last night, I made myself sit down and finish Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle, another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. Those who regularly follow me here or on Twitter can probably figure out why I put off reading this book for so long. If the title didn’t clue you in, take a gander at the cover.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover. Despite my status as an elementary librarian, I tend to shy away from animal books. (Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I blame Old Yeller.) Well, I knew I had to read Mountain Dog so that I could talk to my students about it, so I jumped into the story this weekend. I’m happy to report that I rather enjoyed it. (Yeah, it surprised me, too.)

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In Mountain Dog, readers are introduced to Tony, a boy who has grown up in a rough environment. His mother is being sent to prison for dogfighting, and Tony is going to live in the mountains with an uncle he’s never met. Tony doesn’t know what to expect, and he’s plagued by nightmares of yelling, claws, biting…and math. Can life with an unknown uncle be better than what he’s known? Tony dares to hope so.

When Tony moves to his uncle’s home in the mountains, he’s met by Gabe, a happy, lovable dog who helps Tony’s uncle on search-and-rescue missions. Gabe, along with Tony’s uncle and a few other people, help Tony to understand life in this wild new environment, how to survive in the wilderness, and everything that happens during SAR missions.

Tony gradually begins to thrive–and even feel at home–in the mountains. He’s making friends (both human and canine), he’s writing for the school paper and his own blog, and he’s becoming more comfortable with the numbers that used to worry him so much. He can’t imagine life without his uncle and Gabe…and he doesn’t want to. Tony feels truly loved for the first time in his life, and going back to the way things were with his mom is unbearable.

How will Tony handle his uncertain future? Will he find a forever home with his uncle and Gabe, or will he be forced to leave the life he’s come to love? Learn the answers to these questions and many more when you read Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle.

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Mountain Dog is told in free verse and is a quick read that will appeal to readers in elementary and middle grades (not to mention many older animal lovers). The story is presented in both Tony’s voice and Gabe’s, and it’s interesting to see how both boy and dog view what’s going on around them. Peppered with illustrations by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, this moving book highlights the bond between man and nature. Mountain Dog shows readers that families come in many forms…and species.

If Mountain Dog seems like the book for you, you may want to connect with author Margarita Engle on her website to learn more about her other books. Also, take a peek at the short Mountain Dog book trailer below. Enjoy!

Gaby, Lost and Found

It’s not easy being an elementary school librarian when you tend to avoid fiction books with animals on the covers. (I’m forever scarred from reading Old Yeller as a child.) It’s especially difficult when your state book award program has a few animal books on the lists every year. Such is life.

Well, this week, I turned my attention to one of the animal books I have to read. Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes, a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, appears to be a “cat book” at first glance. (See cover below.) Cats (and dogs) do play a big part in this book, but they are not the central characters, in my opinion. No, that honor goes to Gaby Howard, a young girl who, like the animals she cares for, is looking for some sense of home.

The past few months have not been easy for Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother has been deported to Honduras, her distant father has moved into the house and often forgets to pay bills or go grocery shopping, and mean girls at school ridicule her because of her mom’s situation. Gaby just wants her mom to return and for things to go back to normal. She’s tired of going hungry and worrying about the future. Gaby waits for the day her mom will come back and they can be happy again, but the wait is getting to her.

Gaby’s life is not all bad, though. She has loyal friends, and she’s excited about her sixth grade class’ new service project–volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter.

Gaby loves her work at the animal shelter. She dotes on the sweet kittens, plays with the dogs, and writes profiles of the animals to convince people to adopt these lovable pets. Her profiles, paired with pictures of the animals, are posted around the community, and Gaby is thrilled that people are reading them and coming into the shelter to give the animals forever homes.

There’s one cat at the shelter who Gaby would love to have for her own. The cat, Feather, was abandoned by her previous owners, and Gaby feels a certain kinship with the little cat. She knows what it’s like to be left alone and wondering if she’ll ever feel truly safe and loved again. If only Gaby could adopt Feather and give her the home that she deserves…

As the days pass, worries about Feather’s future and her mom’s return plague Gaby. Her worries are affecting her friendships, her work at the shelter, and Gaby is doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. And when she receives news that derails all of her thoughts of a happy family, Gaby doesn’t know what to do. She feels so lost…

But maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Gaby. Maybe she and Feather can somehow find forever homes of their very own…

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I liked Gaby, Lost and Found much more than I thought I would. I even teared up a little bit. (Okay, a lot.) I’m not much of an animal person, but this book almost convinced me to take a trip to the animal shelter in my town. (Almost. I can barely take care of myself. I would not be a good pet owner.)

Gaby’s class service project was pretty awesome, and I can see how this book could inspire school groups to do some work at animal shelters in their own towns. I especially liked the profiles Gaby wrote for the animals. What a great way to combine service learning with creative writing!

I do thing Gaby, Lost and Found fills a void in a lot of libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. First, it features an Hispanic American female protagonist. That’s a big reason to celebrate this book, but it also deals with the subject of deportation and its impact on families.

We don’t often see stories about deportation, especially accounts of the children left behind. Sure, we see cases on the news of raids in factories or calls from politicians to round up those living and working in America illegally, but we don’t see what happens after that. This book gives just a small glimpse into what happened in one girl’s life–how her sense of home and family was taken away, how her life became one big worry after another, and how she had to face growing up without her mother. I think this is an important topic for young readers to consider. More importantly, though, I’d urge teachers and parents to read this book with children and try to examine attitudes about immigration, deportation, and the turmoil that can result in the families affected by it. It’s not a black and white issue, no matter how it’s portrayed in the media. *steps off soapbox*

I think Gaby, Lost and Found is great for readers in third grade on up, and I plan to recommend it to many of my students when I return to school next month. Even though it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, this book demonstrates the resilience of one young girl and shows readers that they can find happiness even when things don’t go their way.

Waiting for the Magic

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. If my last read made me want some pie, this one made me want a house full of dogs. The book is Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan (author of the Newbery Award winning Sarah, Plain and Tall). This book is super-short, but it packed quite the emotional wallop. I laughed, I cried a bit, and I craved a bit of the magic the characters were looking for in this book. I think animal lovers will especially adore this book, but everyone will find something to love and relate to.

William, his sister Elinor, and his mom are facing a difficult situation. Dad has just walked out, and none of them knows when–or if–he will return. So how do they cope? Mom decides to take William and Elinor to the local animal shelter to adopt a pet. Most people would return home with a dog or cat, but this family is a little different. They adopt four dogs and one cat! All of the animals seem to get along, though, so it kind of works out.

This family still misses Dad, but the animals help to fill the void that their father left behind, especially when William discovers just how “magical” these animals are. (Elinor has always known about the “magic.” It took William a little longer to experience it.) If someone is young, old, brave, honest, or joyful, he/she can communicate with the animals. One just has to open his mind and heart. The “magic” will find its way in.

When Dad eventually returns (after an unexpected development), Elinor is eager to forgive and welcome him back home. William is not so willing to let go of his father’s abandonment. His furry friends guide him toward forgiveness, and with their assistance, the entire family–with a few extra special additions–grows closer together than ever before. Can the whole family experience the “magic” that comes with loving their special pets (and each other)? Read Patricia MacLachlan’s Waiting for the Magic to discover just how magical love, joy, bravery, and forgiveness can truly be.

Waiting for the Magic is a heart-warming, poignant book that, in my opinion, might make you look at the animals around you a little differently. I’ve been playing with the idea of getting a dog for a while now, and this book may have just pushed me a little farther toward the animal shelter! This book is a very easy, quick read, but the message is one that everyone–no matter the age–will find inspiring.

A Dog’s Way Home

I’m happy to report that I just finished reading the last of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees.  I’ll admit that I was reluctant to read this final book, A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron.  Even though most of my students absolutely love “dog books,” I confess that they aren’t my favorites.  These books are almost always heart-breaking, and, contrary to popular belief, I’m extremely tender-hearted, and I can’t stand starting a book knowing that there probably won’t be a happy ending…especially for the poor animal around which the book is centered.  (I blame Old Yeller for this.  That book/movie scarred me for life.)  So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I began to read A Dog’s Way Home, and I was right about this book being a heartbreaker, but, unlike so many other “dog books,” this one offered a fair amount of hope that dog and owner would somehow find their way back to each other, even when so many obstacles were in the way.

Abby’s best friend is her beloved Shetland sheepdog, Tam. The two are always together, and they even compete in agility competitions (which they usually win because they seem to read each others’ minds). On the way home from a competition in Virginia, however, a horrible accident on the treacherous Blue Ridge Parkway separates Abby and Tam. Abby is sure that her precious dog is still alive and trying to find his way back to her…all the way home to Harmony Gap, North Carolina.  Even when Abby and her family move to Nashville (something Abby is not happy about), she never loses hope that she will be reunited with Tam one day.

Tam is lost and alone for the first time in his life.  He has only two goals:  survive and find his way back to his girl.  As Tam makes his way south toward where he’s sure he’ll find Abby, surviving is becoming more difficult.  Winter is on its way, and Tam must rely on all his instincts–and the help of some surprising new friends–to live through the season.  As the days, weeks, and months pass, Tam begins to forget much about his old life as he becomes more like a wild animal and less like the pampered dog he once was.  But, somehow, he always remembers that he belongs somewhere else, and he is doing everything he can to get back to the place–and the girl–that is his true home.

Both Abby and Tam are facing new situations and dangers they never expected, but these two friends have a bond that transcends everything.  It’s this bond that helps both of them hope for the day when they’ll see each other again.  Even though hundreds of miles separate them, Abby and Tam are determined to find each other…and they’ll stop at nothing to make that happen.  Find out how Tam makes his way home to Abby’s welcoming arms when you read A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron.

I’m confident that my students will devour this book.  Books about dogs are not exactly a hard sell in my library anyway, but I think this one stands out from the crowd.  A Dog’s Way Home is told from both Abby’s and Tam’s perspectives, so it shows how strong the relationship between pet and owner can truly be.  Anyone who’s ever had a pet will appreciate this.

There are so many things to love about A Dog’s Way Home–the setting, the relationships, the will to survive, and the love between Abby and Tam.  I sincerely believe that my students will enjoy this book as much as I did (even though I really didn’t expect to).  I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially those in 3rd-6th grades who have a special bond with their own pets.

For more information about this heart-warming book and author Bobbie Pyron, visit http://www.bobbiepyron.com/.  Enjoy!