Sled Dog School by Terry Lynn Johnson

Sled Dog School

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Pages: 208

Themes: Dog sledding,  Sled dogs, Training, Business enterprise, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Matt feels most comfortable working and playing with his rowdy team of dogs. So when he has to set up his own business to help out his math grade, Matt’s Sled Dog School is born! Teaching dog sledding … how “ruff” can it be?

But people, just like dogs, can be unpredictable. The kids who sign up for the classes have a lot to learn — and a little to teach Matt himself — about how to blaze new trails and build new friendships along the way.

Like Terry Lynn Johnson’s popular Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School is about finding your strengths, and your friends, and unleashing your passions.

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson has written a pleasantly satisfying novel about a boy and his sled dogs. It is a coming-of-age story for Matt Misco, who is a natural with his dogs, but struggles with math at school. He also endures teasing at school about his family’s nontraditional lifestyle of living “off the land” in Michigan. Their home doesn’t have electricity.

When Matt has the opportunity to pull up his math grade with an extra-credit business project, he decides to open a sled dog school.  The project requires Matt to have three students and a math plan for his business. He knows he can handle the teaching, but can he handle the math?

The characters are diverse and memorable. Matt is passionate about dog sledding because he’s been running dogs  since he could walk. He’s a skilled musher who is enthusiastic about his sport and at ease with his dogs. Matt is intuitive and knows his dogs’ personalities, traits, strengths and weaknesses.  His first student, Tubbs, is uncoordinated but is a good sport. Tubbs brings his misbehaved dog, Flute, with the hopes of having Matt train him. Alex, an accomplished English dressage rider, joins the school. She’s smart and an overachiever. Alex bonds with Matt’s younger tag-along sister, Lily.

The plot is original and full of action. The school gets off with a rocky start as Matt assumes he simply needs to tell his students what to do and then have them follow with their own small team of dogs. Tubbs has a hard time staying on his sled and wipes. Alex is a quick learner. Matt begins to refine his teaching methods to meet his students strengths and weaknesses. They are an unlikely threesome until an incident occurs and they join together in a rescue effort that strengthens their friendship.

I enjoyed how the teacher encourages his students to use math lessons in the real world. I particularly like how Matt’s parents encourage him to do what he loves most and not follow the crowd. And I like the courage it takes for Matt to tell his mom about his struggle with math and ask for help. Sled Dog School is sure to be a winner for dog lovers.

Resources: Visit Terry Johnson’s website for information about dog sledding and a curriculum guide. She has a lot of dog sledding photographs to share. At the end of the book is a glossary of dog sledding terms.

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of the acclaimed Ice Dogs, writes adventures based on her own experiences in the wilds of northern Ontario. She has been dragged on her face by her dog team, been lost in the bush more than once, and even chased a bear with a chainsaw. She owned a team of eighteen sled dogs for many years and currently works as a conservation officer. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for 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.

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

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Terry Lynn Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Sled dogs, Alaska, Wilderness, Survival, Grief

Opening: All eight of my dogs are stretched in front of me in pairs along the gangline. They claw the ground in frustration as the loudspeaker blares. “Here’s team number five. Our hometown girl, fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord!”

Synopsis:  Victoria is a dogsled racer in Alaska. Since the recent death of her father, who taught her everything she knows about being a musher, she pours herself into training her dogs and preparing for the White Wolf Classic. On a routine run, she comes across Chris who is injured in a snowmobile accident. A fast-approaching blizzard catches Victoria by surprise and covers her sled trails. She finds herself lost in the frozen wilderness with little food or protection. Her real race becomes one of survival against time. Will she be able to save Chris and herself?

Why I like this book: This inspiring and gripping story by Terry Lynn Johnson, is a page turner. Johnson, who once owned  and raced 18 Alaskan huskies, knows how beautiful, 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 plot is fast-paced with high-adventure, danger, courage and hope. Her main characters, Victoria and Chris, are well-developed. The story is narrated by Victoria, a fiercely independent, strong, brave, and smart teen coping with the tragic death of her father in the wilderness. She is determined to carry on his legacy as a musher. Chris, a city boy from Toronto, offers a bit of comic relief. Their relationship is full of tension, emotion and complexity. He steps up to the plate and works with Victoria in a race for their survival. Ice Dogs is a spellbinding story that will appeal to young readers. Visit Terry Lynn Johnson at her website where you can view a video, read interesting information, and check out her blog.  Johnson is a conservation officer in Whitefish Falls, Ontario, Canada.

A special thank you to Amanda at Born Bookish, who first introduced me to Ice Dogs. Click on her blog to read her review.