How to Steal a Dog

Sometimes my job as an elementary school librarian forces me to pick up books that I normally wouldn’t. My latest read is one of those books. It’s How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor, and it’s one of the titles selected for my district’s Battle of the Books competition this year. I can’t really quiz my kids on the book if I haven’t read it myself, so I devoted much of last night to reading this one.

Normally, I shy away from books with dogs on the cover. I blame Old Yeller for this. It’s difficult, however, to work in an elementary school and stay away from “dog books” completely. They’re everywhere. (There are two on this year’s Battle of the Books list and more on the South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee list.) Luckily, How to Steal a Dog wasn’t quite as painfully heart-wrenching as most. It did have its emotional moments, but it didn’t leave me with a crying-induced headache at the end. That’s a good thing.

Georgina Hayes needs to find a way to make some quick money. Her dad left Georgina, her mom, and her little brother with almost nothing, and they’ve been living in their car for way too long. They need a home, but Georgina’s mom is working two jobs and still struggling to make the money needed to make a deposit on a house or apartment. Georgina knows there’s got to be a way to help her mom, but what is this young girl supposed to do?

Well, after seeing a reward poster for a missing dog, Georgina gets the bright idea to steal a dog. But it can’t be just any dog. It has to be a quiet, friendly dog. A dog that is loved by its owner. A dog that someone would pay a lot of money to get back.

Georgina writes down her dog-theft plan in her notebook, and, with the help of her little brother Toby, she puts her plan into action. She finds the perfect dog, nabs him, and waits for the reward posters to go up. But nothing really happens the way Georgina wants it to. She feels guilty about what she’s done, and the dog’s owner may not have enough money for a big reward. This sticky situation is quickly spiraling out of control, and Georgina doesn’t know which way to turn.

Can Georgina turn things around and get the money she and her family need? Will she do the right thing, or will she see her dognapping through to the bitter end? What will happen to make Georgina face all the wrongs in her life and do what she must to make things right? Read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor to find out!

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On a rather serious note, How to Steal a Dog, like Almost Home by Joan Bauer, shines a light on something that gets way too little attention…homeless children. When most people think of the homeless, they envision older people who live on the streets. They don’t realize that some of those people have children, children who still have to go to school, do their homework, and deal with social pressures…all while worrying about where they will sleep at night, if they’ll get a shower this week, or where their next meal is coming from. For me, I think this book made me more aware of what my students may be going through outside of the school walls. Not all of them have a nice house to go home to every day. Not everyone has a mom and a dad there every night to help with homework. Some kids don’t have that extra money needed for class parties, club fees, or even school lunch. That’s something that many educators–myself included–don’t really think about enough. My hope is that How to Steal a Dog will make other readers reflect on these issues and maybe–just maybe–foster just a little more empathy for those around them.

I look forward to discussing this book with my Battle of the Books team. I think they–and many of my other students–will have a lot to say about Georgina’s desperate situation and what they may have done differently.

For more information about How to Steal a Dog and other books by Barbara O’Connor, check out the author’s website.

Who Could That Be at This Hour?

I don’t know what made me pick up Lemony Snicket’s latest book, Who Could That Be at This Hour?, the first volume in the new All the Wrong Questions series.  Maybe I was in the mood for something completely different from anything I’d read recently.  Maybe I wanted to be totally befuddled.  In any case, different and confusing is what I got with this book.  The writing is kind of standard Lemony Snicket fare–it feels like the author is talking directly to the reader, and there’s quite a bit of sarcasm and understated humor involved.  The main character’s voice–in this case, Lemony Snicket himself–is very distinctive and engaging.  The story itself also captivates the reader.  At its core, it is a mystery, but I must admit that nothing is really solved in this book.  In fact, so much remains hidden at the end, that the reader absolutely MUST read the next book, or he/she will remain in a state of confusion for the foreseeable future.  (I have no idea when the next book will be out, so, of course, my confusion remains.)

Who Could That Be at This Hour? follows a young Lemony Snicket and his mentor, S. Theodora Markson (we don’t know what the S stands for), as they attempt to solve a mystery in a nearly abandoned town, Stain’d-by-the-Sea (which is not “by the sea”).  It is unclear just what Lemony is supposed to learn from Ms. Markson, but it is abundantly clear that he knows much more–about everything–than his mentor.  He figures out pretty quickly that all is not what it seems to be when it comes to this mystery, but he can’t put his finger on what’s going on or what he can do to solve this case.  Maybe he’s asking the wrong questions…

Lemony Snicket’s own past is also a prevalent mystery in this book.  Where are his parents?  Why is he an apprentice to Theodora?  Who–or what–did he leave behind when he ventured on his current quest?  What is his end-game?

In any case, this book is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and readers will spend the entire book wondering what in the world is going on.  Who is the true owner of the object–a rather unimpressive Bombinating Beast statue–that Lemony and Theodora are trying to recover?  Who really hired them in the first place?  Well, that may be kind of complicated, and, even though some questions may be answered in this book, they’re probably the wrong ones.  Readers will have to stay tuned to learn more about Theodora, Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the Bombinating Beast, and what’s really going on with young Lemony Snicket.

For even more confusion and more wrong questions, check out this book trailer from Egmont for Who Could That Be at This Hour?  It captures the tone of this book perfectly.