Toby by Hazel Mitchell

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Hazel Mitchell, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-6

Themes: Rescue Dogs, Boy, Animals, Moving

Opening: “Hey, bud! Can you help me unpack? Sure. Dad…could we get a dog?”

Synopsis: A boy and his father move into a new house. The boy convinces his father that they should get a dog. They visit a local animal rescue center and the boy immediately likes a dog named Toby.  Toby is shy and overwhelmed in his new home. He doesn’t want to play and eat his food. He hides under tables, curls up in a ball, and leaves some doggy puddles. Toby is having a difficult time adjusting. But the boy is patient, persistent and hopeful that Toby will settle into his new home.

Why I like this book:

Author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell’s heartwarming story about Toby will both tug at your heart and put a smile on your face. Toby is adorable even though he has a tough time adjusting to the boy and his new forever home. The boy really wants to connect with his new dog. He understands Toby better than anyone because he has moved into a new home and neighborhood. That’s why the boys wants to adopt a new best friend. I can’t think of a better match!

The boy narrates the story. The text is spare and reveals a kind-hearted and sensitive boy who eagerly wants to bond with Toby. The boy expresses so much tenderness towards Toby, even when he chews a pair of glasses and tramples his father’s garden. The ending is endearing.  Mitchell’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels. They are expressive and lively. Make sure you check out the end pages in the book. They set the stage for the story and wrap it up quite nicely. Verdict: Toby is a winner! I can’t wait to give Toby to my great-grandson for Christmas! He loves dogs.

Resources: Make sure you read the author’s note at the end of the book about Mitchell’s own pet rescue experience with her white poodle — the real Toby — who inspired this book.  If you are interested in learning more about adopting a pet from a rescue shelter, visit your local shelter with your parents.

Hazel Mitchell has illustrated numerous books for children, including Imani’s Moon. Toby is her author-illustrator debut. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine with her husband and a brave rescue poodle named Toby, whose eight-day disappearance drew national attention when the story was shared across social media. Visit Hazel Mitchell on her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Book Fridays (PPBF) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

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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