Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog9781250044242_p0_v3_s192x300Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Doylie to Rescue 61yz1rq+bHL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

CrickettHollow Books, Nonfiction, April 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-10

Themes: Amazon rain forest, Global kids, Youth activism, Wild animal rescue, Baby monkeys, Conservation and protection

Opening: “The Yagua Indian man crept through the Amazon rain forest in Peru. He had been hunting a family of red howler monkeys for hours. If he was successful, his family would eat meat that day. If not, they would go hungry.” 

Synopsis: Doyli, a 10-year-old girl with a big smile, lives in the Amazon rain forest. With the help of her family, they rescue and protect orphaned monkeys from hunters and thieves, nurse them back to health and release them to the wild when they are ready.

Why I like this book:

Cathleen Burnham has written a powerful and  inspiring true-story that carries a very strong message for children that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. Doyli is proof of how one small act of caring can have an extraordinary impact in protecting wildlife.

This book engages readers in Doyli’s rehabilitation work from the start. It also includes a fascinating glimpse of every day life in the Amazon rain forest. Doyli does household chores, collects drinking water from the river for the family, takes a bath in the river, and travels with her brother in a dug-out canoe to school where she studies math, Spanish, and science. After school, Doyli nurtures the orphaned monkeys back to health with a special diet and her love.

I especially like how the author doesn’t judge the Yagua Indian for shooting a monkey with a poison dart. He’s only trying to feed his family. The same hunter discovers the monkey he shoots has a baby, which he delivers to Doyli’s home the next morning. He knows the baby will be cared for and released back to its natural habitat — a kind of cycle of life story. The story also shows a dark side, where Doyli discovers a man selling a spider monkey in the marketplace. With the help of the police, the man is arrested and Doyli takes the spider monkey home.

Every page of the book is filled with lush, beautiful and touching photographs that really SHOW every aspect of Doyli’s life in the Amazon, the delicate ecosystem  and the gorgeous endangered species living in the rain forest. Readers will also devour all the factual information.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things Doyli and other children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about the story behind the story of finding Doyli and her family.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. Doyli to the Rescue is the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Reindeer Wish

The Reindeer Wish51K66-2f6xL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_The Reindeer Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House for Kids, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2015

Pages: 48

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Christmas, Wishes, Reindeer, Arctic region, Nature, Adventure, Friendship

Opening: Long, long ago, far to the north and high in the snowy mountains, where you could ski for days and never see another soul, lived a kind little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja wants a puppy for Christmas. School is out for the holidays and she is lonely. She writes a letter to Santa and places it in the postbox. After spending Christmas Eve skiing down her favorite snowy hill, Anja finds a wild baby reindeer abandoned under a tree. Her parents let her care for the little reindeer in the hay shed. Anja is thrilled with her gift and names the reindeer Odin.

Odin gets stronger daily. By spring, Odin’s antlers begin to grow. Anja and Odin become best friends and spend the summer exploring the budding countryside, the cascading waterfalls, and the mountains.

Anja roofTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-19Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

As winter returns early to the arctic, Anja teaches Odin to pull a sleigh. She begins with her little sled packed with heavy sacks. By Christmas, Anja decides Odin is ready to pull her father’s sleigh. They borrow the sleigh and search for the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for Santa. On another journey with Odin, Anja sees a herd of reindeer along a ridge. She wonders if Oden would be happier living with other reindeer. How could she give up her best friend? She knows she must make a decision.

Anja sledTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-20Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

Why I like The Reindeer Wish:

  • Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create their second enchanting and richly textured Nordic Christmas tale featuring their rosy-cheeked daughter, Anja. The Reindeer Wish is a magical tale of friendship, bravery and believing. It will give children something to wonder about.
  • The setting is realistic and contributes to the fairy tale charm. Anja is bundled up in authentic 18th century Norwegian clothing, reindeer boots, and slender wooden skis with straps. Her rustic log house has an earthen roof. The text is friendly and imparts information about nature and survival in the arctic.
  • I have shared some of the story, but I have not given away the unexpected ending that will delight both children and adults.
  • Award-winning photographer Per Breiehagen captures this beautiful story with his extraordinary photographs of breathtaking landscapes and playful scenes of Anja interacting with animals and nature. Readers will journey through the seasons in this story and experience the beautiful Northern Lights. Exquisite!
  • This is a beautiful collaborative effort by this husband and wife team, and their daughter Anja. Fans of The Christmas Wish and The Tiny Wish will want to add this heartwarming treasure to their collection. It will open their hearts to the magic and wonder of Christmas.

Anja ornamentTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-21Resources: Visit the Random House for Kids for more information about the book. Click on the activity page and download The Reindeer Wish ornaments, a Santa wish list, a reindeer adventure page and coloring pages. Kids can also view a video and send a free Christmas e-card of their favorite photograph to  friends. Make sure you also visit The Christmas Wish website to see enlarged pictures of all three books.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Whispers of the Wolf

Native American Heritage Month 2015

Whispers of Wolf12019923_1153634834665819_1090367024691818742_nWhispers of the Wolf

Pauline Ts’o, Author and Illustrator

Wisdom Tales Press, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Pueblo Indians, Southwest, Wolves, Human-animal relationships, Wildlife Rescue

Opening: “Over five hundred years ago, a Pueblo boy and his grandfather were looking for medicine plants high above their village.”

Synopsis: Two Birds, a shy Pueblo boy living in the desert southwest, discovers a whimpering wolf pup in a deep hole. The cub is weak and hardly moves. He asks Grandfather if he may rescue the pup. Two Birds nurses the wolf pup back to health. The wolf goes with Two Birds and his friend, Gray Bear, on hunting trips. A bond forms between Two Birds and his wolf as they explore the natural world together. He hears the wolf’s thoughts in “whispers” of the wind, sun and rain. He shares these  “whisper” stories with Gray Bear. Word spreads through the village and children come to listen to Two Birds’ stories. One night the wild wolves begin calling from a distance and Two Birds’ wolf responds. The wolf yearns to be free and Two Birds will have a decision to make.

Why I like this story:

Whispers of the Wolf is a gratifying portrayal of the community life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and Arizona before the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Pauline Ts’o spent over ten years visiting with Pueblo families in their homes and learning about their strong sense of community. Read the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book to learn about her impressive research for this work of historical fiction.

The result is a heartwarming story about a shy boy trying to find his voice and place among his Pueblo community. When Two Birds finds the wolf pup, his unlikely relationship with the wolf helps him gain self-confidence and develop reverence and respect for the natural world. The characters are memorable and the storytelling will appeal to children and adults of all ages. Ts’o has written a beautiful tale about Native Americans tribes of the southwest. She captures the warmth and beauty of the Pueblo culture in her rich and lively illustrations.

Resources: There are “Notes on the Illustrations” that include fascinating details about the Pueblo culture, family life, adobe houses and living spaces, language, storytelling, traditions and wolves. There is also a map showing the tribal regions in North America. Visit Wisdom Tales Press for resources on American Indians and the Native American Heritage Month website for other resources.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books. 

Lost Dog by Michael Garland

LOSTDOGcvrscnLost Dog

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 10, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Dogs, Animals, Road trip, Lost, Grandma

Opening: “Pete went to see Grandma. She lived on Mutt Street.”

Synopsis: A big dog Pete sets off to visit his grandmother on her birthday. He carefully wraps a present, signs a birthday card and picks some flowers and heads to his little yellow car. As he drives to Mutt Street there are too many cars stuck in traffic, so he gets off at an exit and drives and drives. He finds himself at the top of a mountain and is lost. Along the way he meets a bear, a bird, a big cat, a walrus and a whale who point the way. Will Pete ever find Mutt Street and visit Grandma?

What I like about Lost Dog:

Lost Dog is an “Easy Reader” and Garland uses spare text, repetition and an engaging plot for children learning to read on their own. Garland’s signature double page-spreads feature lively, expressive and colorful illustrations that will appeal to children. Each spread highlights a host of friendly animals in their natural environment. In Pete’s  journey to find his grandma on Mutt Street, Garland takes readers on a journey around the world. Lost Dog also indirectly encourages children who may become  lost to ask for directions or help. It is also a great discussion book about learning to follow directions. This delightful story will engage children who will have fun pouring over the details on each page. Visit Michael Garland’s website to view all of his books.

Lost dog whale photo22-23B

Compliments of Michael Garland

Resources: One of the things I like about this story is that it indirectly addresses spatial issues for young children. I know my daughter had a hard time with directions and I made up games when we went to visit grandparents, a friend, or a favorite store. I would play games that helped her distinguish between right and left turns and encouraged her to memorize landmarks. Spatial training needs to begin with young children. There are many resources on the internet. Visit Laura Leticia‘s Pinterest page on Following Directions. She shares activities, games and resources to help children learn directions.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books. 

Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Where Are My BooksWAMBCover-300Where Are My Books?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author and Illustrator

Simon & Schuster, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Books and reading, Lost and found possessions, Squirrels

Opening: “Spencer loved books. His favorite bedtime book was Night-Night, Narwhal. Sometimes he read it aloud. Every night, Spencer put the book back where it belonged. That way he’d always be able to find it.”

Synopsis: Spencer’s beloved books are disappearing. Each night he reads a book and places it on the shelf and in the morning his book is missing. In each empty space, he finds a tulip petal, screw or different object. He suspects his sister, but she isn’t the thief. He must find the culprit before his book shelves are empty. Spencer devises a plan. When he solves the mystery, he comes up with a great idea that will satisfy readers.

Why I like this book:

  • The cover of shaggy-haired Spencer is so appealing that children will snatch it off the shelf. Debbie Ridpath Ohi has hit a home run with this realistic and highly entertaining story.
  • The simple and precise narrative is a perfect springboard for the delightfully bold and colorful illustrations. Readers will love the detail, especially Spencer’s red Narwhal pajamas and stuffed animal.
  • Spencer’s memorable character is artfully crafted. He’s likable and persistent. Children will easily identify with Spencer and see themselves in similar situations like missing books and toys, accusing siblings of taking prized possessions, solving problems.
  • When Spencer traps the real culprits, readers hearts will melt at his discovery and his clever solution.  Who would have thought…. (no I won’t spoil the ending.) This is a great book for classrooms and school libraries.

Resources: You can find bonus activities and a teacher’s guide at Debbie Ohi’s website.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Where Are My Books? is the first picture book that Ohi has both written and illustrated. She illustrated the New York Times Notable Children’s Book I’m Bored and Naked, written by Michael Ian Black.

The Honest Truth

September 2015 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

The Honest Truth415Wpdo3ejL__SX341_BO1,204,203,200_The Honest Truth

Dan Gemeinhart, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jan. 27,  2015

Suitable for Grades: 4 – 7

Pages: 229

Themes: Boy with cancer, Choices, Goals, Self-confidence, Dog, Friendship, Mount Rainier

Opening: “The mountain was calling me. I had to run away. I had to. And, I didn’t need anyone to go with me.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But, in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Why I like The Honest Truth:

Debut author Dan Gemeinhart has written a powerful and inspiring novel about a 12-year-old boy who has cancer. Mark’s dealt with chemo treatments since he was five years old. His options are running out. He’s angry. He’s lost.  His parents and doctors are making decisions for him. Mark feels out of control and wants to make some choices about his life — and that may include how he dies. He confides his pain and secrets to his best friend, Jessie.

The setting is realistic to the Pacific Northwest and the unpredictable weather. The theme is raw and honest. The plot is fraught with danger and obstacles. Mark runs away with his dog, Beau, and embarks upon a journey to climb the summit of Mount Rainier — a dream he can focus on. His choice may seem selfish because of the pain and worry he causes his parents. He also creates a dilemma for his friend, Jessie –does she tell his parents or keep his secret. And he puts his dog and himself at risk during a dangerous snowstorm on the mountain.

Mark, Jessie and Beau are memorable characters. Beau is devoted and protective of Mark. The alternating chapters, with Jessie’s occasional half chapters, works well. You hear about Mark’s parents anxiety and pain through Jessie. But, you experience Jessie’s struggle to interpret what Mark wants her to do. Does she share her suspicions with his parents or honor her friend’s request.

It took Gemeinhart guts to write a book with such depth. It is a tough book to review, even though it grabbed me from the first page.  Mark grapples with life and death questions as he works through anger and fear. Which will he choose? The Honest Truth will make readers think. It is an excellent classroom discussion book for teens.

Thank you Greg Pattridge! I won The Honest Truth in a giveaway on Greg’s website, Always in the Middle.