Back in the summer reading mode again, with Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge to keep me extra motivated and digging away at the pile of “to be read” books which I’ve been collecting all school year long.
Soldier Dog by Sam Angus is the story of young Stanley Ryder, whose safe and happy world comes apart at the seams: his beloved mother passes away, his older brother ships off to France to fight in the Great War, and his father descends into a bitter gloom. The only ray of happiness in Stanley’s life is Rocket, the family’s greyhound and her new born litter of puppies, and tending to them gives Stanley great comfort. In a fit of rage, Stanley’s father takes the runt of the litter (Soldier, the one who Stanley has developed the closest bond with) and vows to drown him. Bereft and angry, Stanley runs away, lies about his age, and enlists. He hopes to make it to France quickly, and find his brother Tom – surely that will be better than remaining with his always-raging father? Soon, he finds himself assigned to War Dog School, where he must train messenger dogs to serve at the front in France. Stanley forms a deep bond with Bones, the Great Dane he is given to train. Together, they learn all each must do to survive and carry out their mission in France; and soon, they find themselves in the dangerous trenches outside of Amiens, with the Germans closing in on Paris. In the days and battles that follow, Stanley learns so much about what courage and loyalty are all about.
Soldier Dog is just a wonderful story, and I loved the way Sam Angus develops the relationships between Stanley and the dogs in his care against the backdrop of a brutal war. The ending is lovely, too – which the reader is quite frankly hoping for! I’m setting this book aside for our historical fiction unit of study, as a book club selection. The author has included some background information about war dogs and their mission, which my students will find fascinating, and will also help their discussions along.
I also loved Valerie Hobbs’ The Last Best Days of Summer. 12 year old Lucy is perched on the edge of middle school, with many worries about fitting in, being popular, and figuring things out. As summer winds down, she looks forward to a respite from all those worries when she visits her Grams at the lake cabin she loves. Grams, with her love of art and nature, is just the sort of person Lucy needs to be with most, after a summer complicated by her best friend Megan’s social maneuverings. To make matters worse, Lucy’s summer job of babysitting her neighbor Eddie, who is her age but has Down’s Syndrome, promises to be a huge problem once they are in school together that’s what Megan says, and Megan seems to know all about what it takes to survive Middle School. But, the visit to Grams proves to have all sorts of problems, too: Gram doesn’t seem herself, and then Eddie shows up, having run away from home!
The Last Best Days of Summer is a gentle story that covers serious topics in a sensitive way. Grams is coping with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the way that this unfolds is just beautifully done. Part of the story is also told through Eddie’s perspective – again, in a most sensitive and believable manner. This would be another wonderful selection for book clubs (so many middle school issues!) or as a readaloud.
I never write about books I read and didn’t like, but I’m making an exception with The Door. I was drawn to the premise of the story, which seemed an interesting combination of realistic and fantasy. Here’s the cover copy:
The story of a girl whose strange life in a mysterious lighthouse is turned upside down when her mother’s murder leads her to a hidden door — and a mission into an alternate world.Hannah Silver has a secret.
She can sense things that other people can’t, like the cotton-candy smell of a bad sign, or the weightless touch of an approaching storm.
Or the warm, smooth voices of people who aren’t there.
In the Cliff House, secrets of all kinds float through the air and bounce off the walls. Secrets that have passed from generation to generation, until they suddenly stop. When Hannah finds her mom murdered outside of their lighthouse, she discovers there are secrets even she doesn’t know about. Secrets that will take her through a mysterious door — and an unknown, other world.