Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

Dog Driven

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Dogsledding, Sled dogs, Visual disabilities, Wilderness, Survival

Synopsis:

Ever since her vision started deteriorating, fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney has felt out of place in the world. Out of place at home and at school and even on the trail with her dogs.

Now, to help her younger sister with her own ongoing battle with an eye disease — Stargardt — McKenna finds herself at the head of her team of eight sled dogs in a race she’s not sure she can even see, let alone win. For three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, bitterly cold nights, and frequent show squalls, McKenna faces both the Canadian wilderness and her own terrifying vision loss.

But she hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy, despite their budding alliance during the race. Will McKenna risk her survival as well as that of her dog team to keep her secret?

Why I like this book:

Dog Driven is a thrilling new survival novel by Terry Lynn Johnson, who once owned and raced 18 huskies.  She knows firsthand how breathtaking, peaceful, and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience, makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her original plot is fast-paced with high-stakes adventure, danger, courage and hope. The tension is palpable.

McKenna and Guy are the primary characters in the first Great Superior Mail Run sled dog race across Canada. McKenna is passionate about dog sledding because she’s been running dogs since she was very young. She’s a skilled musher who is enthusiastic about her sport and has a deep connection with her dogs, especially Mustard, her lead — they take care of each other. McKenna is running the race to help raise awareness for Stargardt disease. Guy is a good balance in the story and offers a bit of comic relief with his pranks. His trusted lead dog, Zesty, is blind, but they work together. Guy’s running the race to save his sled dogs from being sold by his dad. Together McKenna and Guy look out for each other during the race, until the finish line approaches.

But McKenna has a secret — her vision is rapidly blurring and she fears Stargardt disease. The stakes are high now that she realizes her vision puts her in danger and her dogs at risk on unfamiliar trails under severe weather conditions. They could die. But McKenna sees how her helicopter parents hover over her sister not allowing her to do anything for herself. Their behavior fuels McKenna’s determination to prove to herself and to her parents, that vision loss doesn’t limit her abilities. This is an excellent discussion question to pose to readers. Is Mckenna being selfish/reckless in taking a huge risk that could affect her, her sled dogs and other racers? What would readers do?

During the race, the mushers each carry a mailbag full of letters that they’ve been responsible for getting stamped along the race route. Readers will learn more about the great mail couriers from 1865 to the early 1900s along the White River Trail, an historical mail route between Pukaskwa Depot and White River. Throughout the book, Johnson includes letters from William Desjardins to his family, which give a real sense of a bygone era and a peek into history.  A great deal of research went into Johnson’s creating the race route and story.

Terry Lynn Johnson is the author of Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcoln Wild and the Survivor Diaries series. She lives at the edge of a lake in Ontario, Canada. For many years she was the owner and operator of a dogsledding business with 18 huskies. She taught dogsledding near Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also worked as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Reources and Forestry for 17 years. Her lifelong passion for adventure and wilderness continues to inspire her books. Visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

Stolen Words

Melanie Florence, Author

Gabrielle Grimard, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationship, Grandfather, Indigenous history, Cree language, Residential schools, Healing

Opening: She came home from school today. Skipping and dancing. Humming a song under her breath. Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends. 

Synopsis: As a young girl skips down the street clutching her grandfather’s hand, she asks him, “How do you say grandfather in Cree?” He is sad that he can not remember. He tells her he lost his words a long time ago. He shares with her how he was taken from his family to a residential school for Indigenous children where they were not permitted to speak their native language. The girl sets out to help him find his native language again.

Why I like this book:

This is a warm and touching intergenerational story about a devoted granddaughter who is determined to help her grandfather remember his lost Cree language. Melanie Florence’s story will make you teary as the girl lovingly discovers a way to help him remember and begin to heal.

Florence’s language is simple and has a beautiful rhythm to it. But it delivers an emotional punch as readers learn about how the girl’s Cree grandfather was taken from the loving arms of his family and put into a Canadian residential school. He was forced to forget his language and culture.

Readers will be moved by Gabrielle Grimard’s tender and emotive watercolor illustrations. She captures the sadness in the grandfather’s face and the love and joy of the granddaughter as she springs into action to help him remember.  The illustrations of the words being stolen from the children are very symbolic and powerful.

Florence wrote Stolen Words in honor of her grandfather. She never had the opportunity to talk with him about his Cree background. The story she wrote is about the healing relationship she wishes she had been able to have with her grandfather.

Resources: This is an excellent book to talk with children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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 website.

I Am Not a Number

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Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Authors

Gillian Newland, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Native people, Indigenous children, Residential schools, First Nation, Canada

Opening: The dark figure, backlit by the sun, filled the doorway of our home on Nipissing Reserve Number 10. “I’m here for the children,” the shadowy giant said, point a long finger at me. “You! How old?”

Synopsis: Eight-year-old Irene and her family live together on Nipissing First Nation, until the day a government agent arrives and takes Irene and her two brothers away to live at a residential school, far from home.  Her parents have no choice, or they will sent to jail. As the kids are put in a car, her mother tells Irene, “Never forget home or our ways. Never forget who you are.”

At the residential school the girls and boys are separated. Sister Mary tells Irene that she is not to use her name and she is assigned a number. She is 759. Sister Mary cuts her long locks of hair and gives her a grey uniform to wear. Irene is confused, frightened and homesick. There are so many rules. When she speaks to another girl in her native language she is punished. Every day at the school is gloomy and filled with routines: prayers, breakfast, chores and studies. When summer break arrives, Irene and her brothers are sent home. When she shares how they have been treated with her parents, they vow never to send their children back to the residential school. Will they be able devise a plan to keep their children from returning?  Where will the siblings go?

Why I like this book:

I am Not a Number is based on the true story of co-author Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, an Anishinaabe women who was born into a First Nation community in Northern Ontario. It is profound story that offers a penetrating look at how Indigenous children were taken away from their families and put into residential schools run by religious groups and forced to forget about their language, customs and heritage. It isn’t an easy subject to broach, but the story is told with sensitivity and the language is age-appropriate for children. The authors have written an important teaching tool for both Canadian and American children about this injustice. This happened to Dr. Dupuis’ grandmother in 1928 — not so long ago. Gillian Newland’s illustrations are beautiful and moving. Her tones are subdued and elicit a lot of emotion. Excellent collaboration among the authors and illustrator.

Resources: There is a special section at the end about the real-life Irene and her family with photos. There is information about the Residential Schools System with photos. This is an excellent book to teach children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton.

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education.  Jenny’s interest in her family’s history drew her to co-write I am Not a Number.

Kathy Kacer is well-known for her children’s books about the Holocaust, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser and The Magician of Auschwitz.

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.

Migrant

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Maxine Trottier, author

Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator

Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press,  2011, Fiction

Suitable for: Ages 4-8

Theme:  Migrant workers, Mennonites, Mexico and Canada

Opening/Synopsis“There are times when Anna feels like a bird.  It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.  Her family is a flock of geese beating its way there and back again.”  Anna is the daughter of a special group of Mennonite migrants from Mexico that travel to Canada to work in the agricultural fields each spring.  Anna  wonders what it would be like to stay in one place, to have her own bed, to ride her own bicycle.  Anna sometimes feels like a jack rabbit without a burrow, a bee and not a worker bee, and a kitten sharing a bed with siblings. Most important, she wonders what it would feel like to be a tree with firmly planted roots so that she could watch the seasons pass and never have to be uprooted when spring and fall arrive.

Why I like this book:  Maxine Trottier has written a very unique and whimsical book about a little girl who wants to live somewhere permanently.   Trottier’s text is simple and lyrical.  Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations are beautiful and have a sense of humor –even the geese wear prayer caps.  Migrant has won of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2011.  I have written many newspaper articles over the years about migrant workers, the hardships, and the challenges for the children.  But, I never knew the story about the Canadian Mennonites that moved to northern Mexico in the 1920s with the hope of farming and finding religious freedom.  They maintained their dual citizenship, which has allowed them to return to Canada each spring to work in the agricultural fields planting and harvesting crops.  It is difficult for them to earn a living in Northern Mexico due to droughts during the summer months.  Some find jobs in industry.  Life is hard life for these peace-loving Mennonites, especially the children.  Many speak Low German.   They wear plain clothing, and the women and girls wear white caps and the men wear hats.  They cling to their old ways and peace-loving traditions.  There is background information on the Low-German Mennonites from Mexico in the back of the book.