[STARRED REVIEW] The Dogs of Winter. By Bobbie Pyron. 2012. 320p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99 (9780545399302); e-book, $16.99 (9780545469852). Gr. 5–9. REVIEW
Set in Russia during the 1990s and loosely based on a true story, this absorbing novel tells of a vulnerable and suddenly homeless five-year-old boy. Ivan is taken in by a gang of children who beg and steal to survive, but soon he joins a pack of street dogs, who become his surrogate family for the next two years. Foraging for food and protecting each other, they navigate the dangers of the city in winter and the forest in warmer weather. The opening pages of the first-person narrative, in which Ivan recalls the warmth of his early childhood with his mother and grandmother, provide insight into the emotional base that anchors him in the troubling, sometimes violent times to come. In the final chapters, the boy’s experiences when authorities separate him from the dogs and attempt to integrate him into human society seem even more painful than his previous adaptation to loss, privation, and fear. The many vivid details of street life and the convincing portrayals of even minor characters help bring the story to life. A source bibliography is appended. Written with compassion as well as grim, sometimes brutal realism, this novel offers a riveting story as well as material for reflection and discussion.
That makes three starred reviews for The Dogs of Winter, plus it made Kirkus's 100 Best Children's Books of 2012. I'm one proud mama!