Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Great Review from School Library Journal!

Well, the reviews keep rolling in for my new book, The Dogs of Winter, and they've been showing the book a lot of love. Kirkus Reviews gave it a (rare) starred review and named it as one of the best books of the year! The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books also gave it a starred review. Here is the latest review, this time from School Library Journal. No star this time, but lots of really good things to say:

PYRON, Bobbie. The Dogs of Winter. 312p. bibliog. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-39930-2; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-46985-2. LC 2011051519.
Gr 6-10–A relentless darkness underlies this riveting story of courage and determination. Told as a recollection of a five-year-old boy in Russia, the story follows Mishka Ivan Andreovich from his relatively comfortable and loving home with his mother and grandmother to the lonely and frightening life on the streets of Moscow in post-Soviet Russia. The early chapters offer a dramatic counterpoint to the tragedy following his grandmother’s death and the destruction of his mother’s spirits and will to go on. When she disappears, Ivan is left with her abusive lover, who mistreats him and eventually takes him to an orphanage. Ivan escapes, and the rest of the book focuses on his brutal, frightening, unpredictable life on the streets. His astonishing resilience grows from his determination to find his mother and stay out of an orphanage. He finds refuge of a sort with a small but wise group of children living in sewers and underground stations and then breaks away to survive with a band of wandering dogs. It becomes his family, and he and the dogs protect one another. His gentle, timid nature erodes as he develops street smarts, cunning, and unwavering bravery. This is a captivating, important story based on the life of Ivan Mishukov, a Russian boy who lived a similar adventure. The author’s note and extensive bibliography offer further insight into the underlying problems faced by Ivan and other children in Russia and around the world. Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy (Viking, 2010) was also inspired by Mishukov’s early life.–Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Thanks SLJ!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Lisa Rogak and her pack of friends!

There are a lot of really cool and interesting things I could tell you (and will tell you) about author Lisa Rogak, and here's one: she drives a red hearse--yes, I said a hearse--named Ruby. Ruby is, in fact, the seventh hearse Lisa has had. Why drive a hearse? Because, as well as being a prolific writer of nonfiction, she's also an accomplished musician and a hearse is, well, roomy. But really, as Lisa explains on her website, "Hearses get in your blood." Well, sure. I knew that.

Lisa has been an author and journalist for thirty years and has published over fourty books. She's covered everything from sabbaticals to baby names to funeral food customs. The last few years, she's primarily focused on writing biographies, including one on Michelle Obama and Shel Silverstein. Her 2008 book, Barack Obama In his Own Words, hit the New York Times Best Seller List. Her biography, Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, was nominated for an Edgar. Lisa had also written two books about dogs--Dogs of War and most recently Dogs of Courage--which is how she and I found each other! She emailed me and said, "Hey, would you like to read Dogs of Courage" and I emailed back and said, "Heck yeah, and by the way, do you have a dog" and here we are!

Ruby The Hearse
Lisa is a woman of great curiosity and a great amount of energy. She once started a greeting card company for dogs and cats, bought and sold vintage funeral equipment (who does that?), and served as a ghost writer. She's a classically-trained pianist who also plays jazz and blues on an upright bass. Hence the need for a roomy car, so why the heck not a hearse?

Lisa has lived the vagabond life, traveling far and wide. For that reason, she is not, alas, owned by a dog. But she is the enthusiastic "Aunt Lisa" to a pack of various friends dogs. Let's meet this fascinating lady and her four-footed buds in today's Fido and Friend in Five!

Sam & Cosmo
1. How did you and these dogs find each other?  Currently, to my great dismay, I am owned by no dog of my own because I travel so much. So I serve as Good Mommy to two dogs in New Hampshire I visit frequently, who own a friend of mine who's consequently known as Bad Mommy. Cosmo--aka Little Shit, Napoleon, Haggis, or GETOUTTATHEKITCHEN--is a rescued Lhasa Apso about 7 years old. Sam--aka Bear or Idjit--is a rescued Boykin spanial mix from South Carolina who's around 5 years old. I am also Crazy Aunt to a Shih Tzu named Reagan, who I rescued and delivered to a long-time friend back in 2007. Dog and human were joined at the hip within five seconds of meeting.

When I'm home in Berkley, I walk dogs at the local shelter.

Think Cosmo likes food?
2. What makes these dogs tails wag?  For Cosmo, it's when I'm in the kitchen. He's so food-driven that he's constantly trying to trip me or distract me when I'm cooking so I happen to drop something. For Sam, it's when he sees me put my running shoes on. He's always good for a run that's about twice as long as I can manage.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  May I humbly suggest my own? When researching The Dogs of Courage, there were so many inspiring stories about how dogs just innately know how to help humans, and they usually know better than the humans in their care. From the highly trained therapy, search-and-rescue and medical detection dogs, to the untrained mutts who will instictively jump in front of a train to save their humans, there's no shortage of great dog stories out there, with more being created every day, everywhere.

Oh no! Not the quills!
4. If these dogs could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  To live with them full time because I spoil them rotten! Ergo, the Good Mommy moniker.

5. In five words (or more) tell us what dogs mean to you:  They remind me not to sweat the small stuff or the big stuff, for that matter. There's a great passage I include in Dogs of Courage that sums it all up: "Everybody has to deal with their own mortality. Dogs make us do that," said Larry Madrid, animal trainer for movies including Marley and Me. "They bring so much pleasure to your life, but you look back at the great dogs you've had, the great times, and realize, 'Geez, they only live about ten years.' So make the most of those years. Dogs do."

Thanks so much to Lisa Rogak for sending me her truly inspiring book Dogs of Courage! I'm serious when I say be sure to visit her website. It is really funny and amazing! If you don't laugh out loud when you read parts of it, there's something wrong...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Another Star for THE DOGS OF WINTER!

I'm so happy to announce that my new book, The Dogs of Winter, has received its second starred review! The first one was from the notoriously-hard-to-please Kirkus Review. Now, The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books has given my book its second star. And I think it's also one of the more astute reviews:

Pyron, Bobbie The Dogs of Winter. Levine/Scholastic, 2012 [320p] Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-545-39930-2 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-545-46985-2 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys   R* Gr. 5-9 In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, life is a struggle for many poor Russians. Five-year-old Mishka (his nickname from his mother) has been ejected from his home by his mother’s brutal boyfriend, who has apparently killed Mishka’s mother, and he’s struggling to survive on the streets of Moscow rather than end up in the city’s legendarily savage orphanages. Initially connecting with a crowd of street kids who eke out a living in one of the city’s railroad stations, gentle Mishka is upset by their violence and immorality, and he’s increasingly drawn to the friendly yet cunning dogs that are also scavenging to survive. Soon he forsakes human company entirely and becomes part of the dog pack, helping them find food and benefiting from their warmth and protection.
As a note explains, Pyron bases her story on a real child, one of Moscow’s many street children in the 1990s, who lived for two years with a pack of dogs (a story also explored in Eva Hornung’s adult title Dog Boy). She’s used that story to create a compelling and highly original fiction, with Mishka’s experiences somewhere between Holman’s Slake’s Limbo (BCCB 4/75) and The Jungle Book (indeed, the police trying to catch him call him “Mowgli”). The underlying picture of the street kids is a grim and affecting one: having few acceptable options, they take refuge in drugs and drink and survive by prostitution and violence—or they don’t survive at all. Mishka’s life with the dogs is actually less feral-seeming than theirs; there’s considerably more affection (he even embraces an elderly dog as a substitute for his kindly late grandmother) and loyalty in the dog pack, and the dog characters are as vivid as Mishka’s human acquaintances. The book flirts with fantasy in Mishka’s communication with his dog compatriots, but even that could be easily construed as his own interpretations. An absorbing account in its own right, this could also partner with Gerstein’s Victor (BCCB 12/98) for two very different looks at (purportedly) wild children. An extensive bibliography about feral children and Russian child poverty in general as well as the book’s particular inspiration is appended. DS

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Joan Bauer and Max!

I don't know many authors out there who wouldn't be excited to have their latest book reviewed in the New York Times. Joan Bauer was lucky enough last month to have her latest middle grade novel, Almost Home, reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by none other than Marley and Me author, John Grogan! And he liked it--he really liked it! Even better, Kirkus gave it a starred review, saying, "Sugar, with her natural gift for rubbing down imperfection, will win reader's hearts." Joan is no stranger to rave reviews. Many of her eleven books have won the Newbery Honor, Schneider Family Book Award, two Christopher Awards, the Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Prize among others. And I personally think Almost Home should win the award (if there was one) for most charming book jacket. I mean, really? Who could resist that face? Those eyes?

Almost Home is the story of a big-hearted little girl, Sugar Mae Cole, trying very hard to hold on to her dreams. She and her mom and rescue dog, Shush, find themselves homeless instead of making a new start like they'd planned. After Sugar and her mom become separated, Sugar and Shush wind up in foster care. Through poems and grit, Sugar does everything she can to make her dreams come true.

When I checked out Joan's website, I was delighted to see she has a dog. I was even more delighted when she agreed to share the spotlight on Fido and Friend in Five with her beloved Wheaton Terrier, Max. Let's find out what makes Max's tail wag and what Joan's favorite dog story is in today's Fido and Friend in Five!

1. How did you and Max find each other? It was very much a how-much-is-that-doggy-in-the-window moment. My husband and I were walking past this very good and reputable pet store in Manhattan, and this adorable, 11-week-old Wheaten Terrier was rolling around with his sister in the store window. I fell in love. My friend said, "That's your dog." We went inside--to meet him, you understand, nothing more. Major bonding occurred. Major. The cuteness factor was beyond anything. My husband and I went to a bookstore to read about Wheaton Terriers. Two hours later we went back and, well, we bought him.

2. What makes Max's tail wag?  When we come through the front door--even if we've been outside for a couple of minutes, it's a big moment for him. And his stub of a tail (my favorite part of this beast) just goes back and forth like crazy. It's too adorable. He also wages at the neighbors and other dogs. He's a friendly little guy. He has never once wagged at the UPS man, however--to Max, that is the arch enemy.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  Certainly, I read all the dog books, but my husband and I love the movie "Eight Below" which has a whole lot of dogs in the snow doing courageous things. Max watches that movie transfixed, and I think he has a crush on Maya, the girl dog.

4. If Max could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  Probably that I would rub him longer. It's not like I don't have time to do this! But no matter how deep the rubbing goes, when I stop, he looks at me like, "What's the matter with you?" Sometimes he'll take my hand in his mouth and try to put it back on his tummy. (I have to say, I LOVE this image!)

5. In five words, tell us what Max means to you:  That's hard, Bobbie! Faithful furball who understands all.

Many, many thanks to Joan and Max for taking time out from tummy rubs to be on Fido and Friend in Five! Be sure to check out Joan's website and her blog to find out more about her books and what good things she's doing.