A Dog’s Way Home
Bobbie Pyron (J Fiction)
Eleven-year-old Abby Whistler and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, are inseparable. Not only is Tam an agility champion, he is Abby’s world…and she is his. But an unexpected detour leads to a terrible accident that tears Tam from Abby. As the days turn into weeks and fall gives way to the harshness of winter, can Tam find his way from Virginia back to North Carolina where home and his girl is?
Pyron checks all the boxes with this book. A Dog’s Way Home is non-stop action and suspense with whole lot of heart. Short chapters and alternating points of views—between Abby and third-person POV for Tam—ensure that readers stay engaged and fully committed to these characters and their individual struggles as one fights to survive in the harsh wilderness while the other navigates foreign situations in a big city.
There are a couple of things that really made this an exceptional read for young readers. First is that Pyron chose NOT to write down to her audience by having Tam be the narrator of his own story. Having the scene described by an arbitrary third party lends a starkness and cold reality to Tam’s situation, which only heightens the drama and urgency of his predicament. Second is the cruel reality of Tam’s situation. He is an animal suddenly faced with either starvation or survival and as his natural instincts kick in, so does the necessity to eat, and in order to eat one must kill.
Anyone who has ever cared for a dog will feel their heart being twisted and squeezed within their chest as Tam battles everything from the weather to wild animals and ruthless humans. Side note: a lot of well-meaning men who are protecting their loved ones or just doing their jobs really get the short end of the stick in this book and ultimately come across as villains. I expect that by the end of this book, many young readers will despise just about every adult in this book…except Meemaw, Abby’s grandmother.
Part Lassie Come-Home and part The Incredible Journey, A Dog’s Way Home will engross readers from beginning to end with messages of hope, perseverance, acceptance, and love. Most of all, it will challenge readers to reassess what’s truly important since material trappings never hold their shimmer for very long. As Meemaw said to Abby, “Sometimes the thing you think is the most important isn’t that big a deal, once you have it.”
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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William Steig (Juvenile Fiction)
Abelard Hassam di Chirico Flint, of the Mossville Flints, is a very pampered mouse who likes things “just so”. Living off the wealth of his mother, he shares a comfortable house with his wife, Amanda, and lives a life that is predictable, satiable, and pleasant. But on one particular day, during a perfectly nice picnic, Abel’s life is turned upside down when a sudden hurricane separates him from everyone he loves and all that he knows. Lost and alone, can one small mouse—who has been surrounded by ease and extravagance all his life—conjure up enough wit and grit to survive?
I grew up adoring William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and so I was delighted to see that Abel’s Island shared the same valuable moral: possessions can never equal the riches and wealth provided by family. Abel’s cup overflows with friends, family, and fortune, but when circumstances place him in a life-or-death situation, he begins to question his life and his worth and wonders if there might be a bigger being in charge: “Was it just an accident that he was here on this uninhabited island? Abel began to wonder. Was he being singled out for some reason: was he being tested? If so, why?” All of us, at one time or another, have felt like Abel. That just when life seems to be going along swimmingly, the rug suddenly is pulled right out from under us. Is it because we’ve become too complacent? Too comfortable? Or is it simply a reminder of how fragile and temporary life is and that every minute should be cherished and savored and never taken for granted.
I love books for young readers that reinforce the idea that there is strength, resilience, and courage in each of us and these things are waiting for just the right opportunity to emerge. A. A. Milne passed away twenty years before Abel was born on paper, but the words of encouragement that he offered to a bear full of stuff and fluff could very well have been meant for Abel as well: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” In the end, Abel proved that he WAS quite able after all. Silly old mouse.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
A Finder’s Magic
Philippa Pearce (Juvenile Fantasy)
Till goes to bed in despair and wakes up desperate. So deep is his desperation that you can see it in his dreams. And one night, someone does see it. That someone is a Finder. A Finder that promises Till that he will help him find his beloved lost dog, Bess (for it is her absence that leads to all this unfortunate desperateness). But finding Bess isn’t easy. Clues need to be found, witnesses questioned, and leads followed. Leads that point to a stranger, a thin line of light, and a nursery rhyme.
This book has a rather interesting backstory. Pearce wrote this book for her two grandsons and it was illustrated by the children’s other grandmother, Helen Craig. The main character’s name is an anagram of the two grandson’s names put together (Nat and Will) giving us Tillawn or Till for short. Unfortunately, Pearce died before Craig began illustrating this book and was therefore deprived of seeing the beautiful book that their combined efforts produced.
Pearce gives young readers a wonderful tale of magic, mystery, and mischief. The story deals with issues of loss and trust and tackles both with charm and humor. After the book is finished, parents might want to remind their young reader that this is a fantasy book and, under ordinary circumstances, it is never appropriate to go running off with a stranger, especially one who offers to help you find your dog.
In the end, through all the questioning and searching and worrying, Finder gives Till something that replaces his desperation. He gives him hope and although it’s not what Till wants, it’s what he needs and at that moment, hope is enough.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com