Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog9781250044242_p0_v3_s192x300Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

24 thoughts on “Mountain Dog

  1. I always enjoy a well written story that includes dogs. This one sounds special with so much change coming to the main character. Thanks for the review. I’ve added it to my list of books to read this year.


    • And, so do youth! Tony’s life is complicated, but it is encouraging to see him work through so many issues. And, I love the alternating voices of Tony and Gabe — very well done! (I really thought you had read this one.)


  2. I think children would love to learn about SAR dogs in the context of a boy learning to live a new life. This sounds like more than just a book about dogs. Great review.


    • This so much more than just a book about Gabe, a SAR dog. I love the alternating voices of Tony and Gabe. Uncle Tio is a great character too and supports Tony, even when he messes up. Such a great story.


  3. Stories with dogs were always popular in the bookstore where I worked for many years, and this has the added element of a boy dealing with a new life and complicated feelings about his mother. Thrilled to find a new (to me) book in free verse, as I’ve been studying the form.


    • I think you’ll enjoy how Engle writes this story in free verse. It is such a realistic story about a boy who begins to find purpose in his life and heal. And, of course Gabe plays such an important part of helping Tony, as dogs can only do.


  4. Wow, this sounds like it would be perfect for my nine year old! He loves dogs, and I like books that touch on social issues such as immigration. (We both liked Crossing the Wire.) Also I am always fascinated to see an author depart from the usual way of doing things and take a risk, such as in this case the author writing in free verse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you and your son would love this story. It is very easy to read because it is in free verse with short chapters. Each chapter alternates with Tony’s voice or the dog’s voice. And, Engle is a master storyteller. Only the opening is a tad sad for Tony, but the rest is very upbeat as he learns a new way of life and family. Thanks for visiting.


  5. Increasingly, I am so sensitive about cruelty to animals. I always was, but it seems, as I grow older, I have even less tolerance. Wonderful to write about it for children.


  6. This sounds like a special book – perfect for my 6-year-old grandson(s) a couple of years. I may have to buy it and save it for then. Dogs, strong characters, values about being gentle with animals, a winning combination.


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