Mountain Dog

In Mountain Dog, readers are introduced to Tony, a boy who has grown up in a rough environment. His mother is being sent to prison for dog-fighting, and Tony is going to live in the mountains with an uncle he’s never met. Tony doesn’t know what to expect, and he’s plagued by nightmares of yelling, claws, biting…and math. Can life with an unknown uncle be better than what he’s known? Tony dares to hope so.

When Tony moves to his uncle’s home in the mountains, he’s met by Gabe, a happy, lovable dog who helps Tony’s uncle on search-and-rescue missions. Gabe, along with Tony’s uncle and a few other people, help Tony to understand life in this wild new environment, how to survive in the wilderness, and everything that happens during SAR missions.

Tony gradually begins to thrive–and even feel at home–in the mountains. He’s making friends (both human and canine), he’s writing for the school paper and his own blog, and he’s becoming more comfortable with the numbers that used to worry him so much. He can’t imagine life without his uncle and Gabe…and he doesn’t want to. Tony feels truly loved for the first time in his life, and going back to the way things were with his mom is unbearable.

How will Tony handle his uncertain future? Will he find a forever home with his uncle and Gabe, or will he be forced to leave the life he’s come to love? Learn the answers to these questions and many more when you read Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle.


Mountain Dog is told in free verse and is a quick read that will appeal to readers in elementary and middle grades (not to mention many older animal lovers). The story is presented in both Tony’s voice and Gabe’s, and it’s interesting to see how both boy and dog view what’s going on around them. Peppered with illustrations by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, this moving book highlights the bond between man and nature. Mountain Dog shows readers that families come in many forms…and species.

Duke

Duke by Kirby Larson was the winner of the 2015-2016 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

It’s 1944, and Hobie Hanson is doing what he can for the war effort at home. With his dad fighting in Europe, Hobie is the man of the house, and he tries to help his country in ways both small and large. Hobie’s feeling the pressure, though, to do something bigger than anything he’s ever considered–donate his beloved dog, Duke, to the war effort.

The Dogs for Defense program asks Americans to donate their well-trained family pets to the armed forces–as guard and patrol dogs and even bomb sniffers. Hobie knows that Duke is an excellent prospect for this program…but he doesn’t want to let go of his dog. Isn’t it enough that his dad is fighting in this war? Does Hobie have to put his dog in danger as well?

Eventually, Hobie gives in and loans Duke to the Marines…and immediately wants to change his mind. In fact, he does everything he can think of to get Duke home. Hobie even betrays a new friend in his quest to be reunited with Duke. None of his efforts work, and Hobie decides to be brave and deal with his situation as best he can…and that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Soon, Hobie will realize that there are many different kinds of bravery. His father, who is in more danger than ever, is brave for leaving his home and fighting for his country. Duke is brave when he follows orders and keeps others safe. But maybe Hobie is brave, too. Maybe loaning Duke to the Marines–even though he didn’t want to–was brave. Maybe looking after his mom and little sister is brave. And maybe apologizing to his new friend and standing by his side is brave.

Will Hobie’s bravery be enough to hold things together until he’s reunited with those he loves? Will his father come home soon? Will Duke?

Discover just how much bravery and love mean to a boy, his dog, his family, and those around him when you read Duke by Kirby Larson!

Bug in a Vacuum

Fans of Scaredy Squirrel are sure to be charmed by author Mélanie Watt’s newest offering, Bug in a Vacuum. This picture book, which will be released on August 25th, takes readers young and old on an unexpectedly touching and hilarious journey through the five stages of grief.

A little bug was just wandering around when he found himself in quite the predicament. He was sucked into a vacuum cleaner! Surely this couldn’t be happening (denial). Maybe he could make a deal with the vacuum (bargaining)…or fight his way out (anger). But no, it’s hopeless; he’s stuck here forever (despair). He may as well accept his new home an make the best of things (acceptance). Or could there be hope for life outside this dreary vacuum cleaner after all?

While this very cute little bug is dealing with his new surroundings inside a vacuum, the family dog is going through the five stages of grief on the outside. His favorite toy is also inside this pesky appliance, and the dog really wants it back. He’s heartbroken at the thought of never seeing his toy again…but the dog may encounter something to take his mind off his troubles.

While I think older readers may appreciate Bug in a Vacuum more than many children, this book has something to delight everyone. In my opinion, the illustrations are the highlights of the book. They are gloriously detailed, and readers are certain to find something new upon every viewing. There aren’t very many words in Bug in a Vacuum, but the author uses the few words present to perfectly depict what a little bug trapped in a vacuum may be feeling.

This book could be a fun read-aloud with young readers, but I really think older readers may get more out of it. I can even see Bug in a Vacuum being used in psychology courses–or in school counseling–to illustrate the five stages of grief.

Hero

Leo Biggs often imagines himself as a gladiator, fighting in the Roman amphitheater and trying to win the favor of Jupiter. In real life, though, Leo is a bit of an outcast. He only has one real friend–at least, just one human friend–but Leo longs to be seen as brave, popular, and extraordinary. And one day, he thinks he has his chance…

After a rather interesting episode at school, Leo gains the notice of Warren Miller, probably the coolest guy at school. Warren invites Leo to hang out after school…but Leo has to prove himself worthy of being in Warren’s crowd. Even though Leo is hesitant about what is asked of him, he’s willing to do just about anything to be popular. Leo couldn’t know, though, that his actions would lead to more trouble than even his powerful imagination could conjure.

One day, Warren and his crew try to convince Leo to have a little “fun” with Jack Pepper, his neighbor’s dog. Leo knows what’s going on is wrong, and he doesn’t really want to participate. What happens next changes everything Leo feels about himself and what the people in town think of him. Leo takes credit for saving Jack Pepper’s life (even though it was really the other way around), and now everyone thinks he’s some kind of hero. Only Leo, Warren and friends, and little Jack Pepper know the truth…but none of them are talking.

Leo is enjoying his new status as a town hero, but part of him knows that he’s living a lie. One day, however, something happens that puts Leo’s vision of himself as a hero to the test. A catastrophic event hits the town, and Jack Pepper is put in real danger. Leo knows it’s up to him to save this little dog, but what can one boy do in a truly perilous situation?

Will Leo finally step up and be the hero that Jack Pepper needs? Will Leo–or anyone else–ever reveal what actually happened when he “saved” Jack Pepper to begin with? And will Leo ever discover what it really means to be a hero? Answer these questions and many more when you read Hero by Sarah Lean.

Hero is a good book for illustrating the importance of being true to oneself and standing up for what’s right…even when it’s not easy. This book also emphasizes the value of all types of friendships–those with kids, adults, and even animals. As the story progresses, Leo begins to realize that real friends are loyal, even when he doesn’t deserve it, and he needs to do whatever is necessary to prove his loyalty as well. Sometimes, that simply means being upfront and honest about his mistakes and doing whatever he can to make things right.

I think Hero is a good fit for most elementary and middle grade readers. It deals with issues like bullying, honesty, popularity, imagination, bravery, friendship, and, of course, caring for animals. I’m sure this book will be a big hit in my own school library.

Buddy

Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts has wanted a dog forever, but he never quite expected to get one the way he did.

On the way to church one Sunday morning, Li’l T’s dad hits a scraggly, old dog with the car. Even though the family doesn’t have the money to take care of this injured dog, Li’l T is convinced that this dog, who he names Buddy, is meant to be his. With the help of some folks at church, Buddy gets the help he needs, and even though the dog loses a leg, he gains a home with Li’l T.

Li’l T sacrifices a lot to make Buddy a part of his family. He sells his GameBoy so that he has money to buy food for Buddy. He starts mowing lawns so that he can keep caring for his dog. He spends hours talking to Buddy and trying to convince this dog to make the most of his second chance at life. Buddy may only have three legs, but Li’l T knows his dog can do just as much as any four-legged dog around.

Li’l T and Buddy are the best of friends, but something is about to happen that could tear them apart forever. A hurricane named Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans, and the family has to leave everything behind…including Buddy. There’s just no room for him in the family car. Li’l T wants to stay behind with Buddy, but his parents won’t hear of it, so they leave Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with enough food and water for the next couple of days. Surely the storm won’t keep them away more than two days, right?

No one is prepared for Katrina’s path of destruction. This monster of a storm even hits the family’s refuge in Mississippi, and Li’l T soon learns that there isn’t much left of his home in New Orleans. Flood waters have destroyed much of the city, and there may not even be a home to return to.

Immediately, Li’l T thinks of Buddy. Is his dog still locked up in the bathroom? Is he wondering why Li’l T hasn’t come back for him? Has Buddy been rescued, or did Katrina claim one more victim? Li’l T isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s determined to find out what happened to the dog that became his best friend.

It’s not always easy to keep moving when so much has been taken away from you. Li’l T and his family have lost so much because of Katrina, but they’ve still got each other, and Li’l T has the hope that he will be reunited with Buddy one day. But will their reunion be everything that Li’l T expects, or will he realize that sometimes the only thing you can do is move on?

Read Buddy by M.H. Herlong to see how tragedy brought two friends together, tore them apart, and taught one young boy what true courage and sacrifice really mean.

Finding Zasha

The year is 1941, and twelve-year-old Ivan Savichev lives with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad, Russia. The entire world is at war, and the German forces are bent on destroying Ivan’s home city. Bombs drop from the sky, food and water are scarce, and no one knows if this day will be their last.

Ivan’s mother decides there’s only one course of action. She will join the other factory workers in the Ural Mountains, and Ivan will cross the frozen Lake Ladoga and go to live with his Uncle Boris (a man Ivan has not seen since he was five). Ivan makes this treacherous journey with Auntie Vera, who is going to stay with her sister-in-law in the village of Vilnov. Ivan cannot fathom leaving Auntie, so he stays with her…and it is here that his life will change forever.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Vilnov, Ivan joins a group of partisans, or an underground movement charged with disrupting the work of the German army. He’s surprised to learn that many of those around him are also partisans, and all of them are eager to do their part for the good of Russia.

After the Germans destroyed his beloved home city, Ivan is looking for a way to help his country win this horrible war, and he’s about to get his chance. The Germans have arrived in Vilnov, and Ivan has caught the interest of their leader, the terrifying Major Axel Recht, a cruel Nazi commander. Major Recht is charmed by Ivan’s musical talent, and he needs someone to help care for and train his precious German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. Ivan steps in and seizes an opportunity to feed information to his fellow partisans.

Ivan soon realizes, though, that his mission is not an easy one. Major Recht is suspicious of everyone and quick to anger. He doesn’t fully trust Ivan, and he seems to resent Ivan’s connection with Thor and Zasha, dogs who are being trained to hunt Russians. Ivan knows he must get away from Recht soon, but he cannot fathom leaving Thor and Zasha behind to face Recht’s wrath alone. Ivan plots to escape with the two puppies, an action that is sure to enrage Major Recht. One night, Ivan makes his move, takes the dogs with him, and leaves Recht behind. He can’t know, though, just how far Recht will go to seek revenge…

In the midst of war, Ivan eventually finds a measure of peace as he finally makes his way to his Uncle Boris’ cabin. He trains Thor and Zasha to be faithful companions, he learns about farming, he visits with friends…and he grows perhaps too comfortable. When his worst enemy returns, Ivan must flee once again, but this latest escape puts Zasha in danger. The dog has gone missing, and Ivan must make some difficult decisions that could impact the safety of his friends and his own future.

What will Ivan do? Will the evil Major Axel Recht catch up with him? What will become of Thor and Zasha? Read Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow to find out!

How to Steal a Dog

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!