Monday, December 31, 2012

Horn Book Review of The Dogs of Winter!

When you've been a librarian as long as I have (let's just say, I've been a librarian waaaaay before the Internet!), there are certain book review periodicals you always read. Some, like Publisher's Weekly and Booklist, can be counted on to give even-handed reviews, and are not particularly stingy with their "starred" reviews. Others, like Kirkus, are notorious for being brutally honest and hard to please. Many writers dread reading their review from Kirkus.

And then there's Horn Book Magazine. Horn Book is venerated amongst librarians and other folks deeply interested in and committed to the world of children's literature. The Horn Book can be counted on to carry in-depth discussions on just about every aspect of children's literature. They also review books. Some books. Not many. Just to have your book get reviewed in Horn Book Magazine is an accomplishment; to have a good review in Horn Book is really something to be proud of!

So I'm very proud to share with you this review of The Dogs of Winter which appears in the latest issue of Horn Book Magazine:


The Dogs of Winter

by Bobbie Pyron
Intermediate, Middle School Levine/Scholastic 312 pp.
10/12 978-0-545-39930-2 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-545-46985-2 $16.99
“We’ve all lost our mothers, stupid,” young Mishka Ivan Andreovich is informed by rat-faced Viktor, one of a group of homeless children subsisting in Moscow’s train station. Ivan’s grandmother, Babushka Ina, died; his mother has disappeared; and now he has no family. The Soviet Union has fallen, and with it went the safety net that might have saved the desperately poor. And so Ivan joins the thousands of abandoned children living on the streets of Moscow in the mid-1990s. When Ivan is adopted by a pack of feral dogs, he chooses to live with them instead, begging for food and sharing it with the dogs, who, in return, protect him from ruthless gangs and the harsh Russian winter. Ivan always remembers the book of fairy tales his mother used to read to him every night, and in Pyron’s simple and elegant prose, Ivan’s story becomes a modern fairy tale of orphans and dark woods and children who no longer know any safe paths to follow. Well-crafted sentences, lively dialogue, and a remarkable story line combine for an absorbing adventure tale that young readers will find irresistible. Based on the true experiences of then-four-year-old Ivan Mishukov, this is just one child’s tale, representing the estimated 100 million street children worldwide (as discussed in the author’s note). When a young boy finds his chances of survival better among a pack of feral dogs than among violent children, readers may well wonder what exactly it is that makes us human. Dean Schneider

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fido and Friend in Five: Sheila O'Connor and Rollo!

Keeping Safe 
Sheila O'Connor
In case you've ever wondered, I do occassionally read fiction written for adults--even adult fiction books that have nothing to do with dogs. I just recently finished Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Flight Behavior, and I'm listening to the audiobook of Gone Girl, a book everybody is talking about. What these books have done for me is reaffirmed why I really prefer to read books written for kids and teens. Why? Because I get sick of reading about infidelity, deceit, murder, and betrayal. I really don't enjoy reading fiction populated with characters I loathe, where there's not a single character I even remotely like. Or, as in the case of Flight Behavior, I feel beat over the head with a "messege." Yes, yes, I know not all adult fiction is like this, and yes, I've read some fine books. But once you're spoiled by authors like Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, Gary Schmidt and many, many more who write such beautiful, funny, heartfelt novels, well, it's hard to go back.

Sparrow Road
Sheila O'Connor is one such author. Her novels are poetic and populated with people--sometimes flawed people--trying to do their best. I've had the great pleasure to read two of her middle grade novels, Sparrow Road and her new book, Keeping Safe the Stars. Sparrow Road, which received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, is populated with a rich assortment of characters all trying to find their best selves and their dreams. Like her new book, Keeping Safe the Stars, it is a book that celebrates the human connection and the universality of emotion. Her coming of age novel, Where No Gods Came, won the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Award for Literary Fiction.

Sheila's poems, essays, and stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines. She also teaches fiction in the MFA program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota and serves as editor of Water-Stone Review. 

Let's meet this charming duo in today's Fido and Friend in Five:

Saved by love
Heart to heart
1. How did you and Rollo find each other?  It was late fall, our beloved dog Buddy had recently died, and my twenty-year-old daughter saw a photo of some rescue puppies at a shelter three hours north of our house. Although I made her promise we wouldn't necessarily adopt one, of course I began to soften the minute I held Rollo to my heart (isn't that a beautiful way of putting it?). He was so calm, so full of gentle love, with these giant soulful eyes. The shelter was a dismal place, dirty and overcrowded with cages stacked on top of one another, and the pack of puppies looked desperate to be loved. I just couldn't leave him there. Fifteen minutes later, I wrote a check and signed the papers. The three of us drove home through a pounding rainstorm, Rollo in my daugher's lap. She held him while he slept, and while he suffered serious bouts of car sickness. By the time we made it back to Minneapolis, my daughter, the car, our brand new pup--everything was a mess! The first few months were rough. Rollo had a host of illnesses, stomach problems, infections, endless vet visits, and mounting bills. Every couple of days, we had to cook his food--giant pots of chicken, sweet potatoes, ect. It was real work, but his big, kind heart kept us in the game. And happily, he's strong and healthy now. If a sick dog can be saved by love, then Rollo was. He was adored by all: my son, my daughter, my husband. Everyone wanted to be near him, to hold him, and to love him. In his first nights home, my son put a mattress on the kitchen floor so he could hold him in his sleep. My daughter brought an endless stream of toys for Rollo to destroy. He was the center of our family's joy; he helped us recover from the great grief of losing Buddy.

Racing to the top!
2. What makes Rollo's tail wag?  Rollo is a happy spirit; it's rare his tail doesn't wag. He loves visitors of all kinds, long romps in the park, racing to the top of Browndale Hill, the sight of any dog who wants to romp and race. But perhaps his greatest love is children. He has a mad love for small beings, and will mourn for hours when there are children playing in the park across the street without him. The sound of a child's laugh will cause him to leap up from a nap and run to the window, wagging with hope. His other great happiness is the return of our own children, both grown now and living elsewhere. He can't contain his happiness when those kids who loved him first finally come home.

3. What's your all time favorite dog story?  We had a family vote on this; we had so many dog books we loved. But our all-time favorite is a picture book we read and re-read and re-read when the kids were young: Theodor and Mr. Balbini by Petra Mathers. Those two characters are completely real to us, and we still find occasions to reference Mr. Balbini's sadness when Theodore longs for a life beyond "routine."

High Five!
4. If Rollo could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  If Rollo were in charge, I'd read less books, write less books, spend less time in a chair grading student papers. Frankly, he finds books to be a bore. All that reading looks like wasted time to him. The minute he sees me settling in to work, he drops a ball or Frisbee in my lap. I think he'd like me to retire.

5. In five words, tell us what Rollo means to you:  Joy without end, love forever.

Cold noses, warm hearts
Want to find out what Sheila's favorite food is, or what the stupidest thing is she ever did as a kid? Be sure to visit her lovely website! Thanks Rollo and Sheila!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Starred Review!

I am so honored to have just received this starred review from Booklist for The Dogs of Winter!

[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.
—Carolyn Phelan

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!