Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lost, But Not Forever

Like iron filings to a magnet, I am drawn to books about dogs, books with dogs as the sole characters, books about people and their dogs.  Having one who chose me twelve years ago is definitely part of the reason but my students, some of my most reluctant readers, are drawn to those stories.  Those are the volumes, fiction and nonfiction, constantly moving in and out of the library all year long.

My students' joy in the day they are picking out a new puppy or open grief in telling me a beloved friend has died, has been a frequent occurrence during my career. Children and dogs have their own special language, a tie, hard for some adults to understand.  Author, Marion Dane Bauer, has crafted a memorable tale of how wanting, different kinds of loneliness, bring characters together in Little Dog, Lost (Atheneum Books for Young Readers).

Through the voice of a narrator, character dialogue and thoughts,  over the course of two days, the strings attached to lives are caught and woven together.  Buddy,

Little black dog with brown paws
and a brown mask
and a sweet ruffle of brown fur on her bum
just beneath her black whip of a tail.
Satiny coat.
Ears like airplane wings
that drop
just at the tips.

has lost her boy.  The family has moved to an apartment in the city leaving him with a friend in another town, a woman in the town of Erthly, a woman not quite sure what to do with this newest member of her household.

Mark lives with his single mom, the mayor of Erthly, yearning for...yes, you guessed it, a dog.  But his mother has been very firm in her denial of this request despite his every attempt to persuade her.  All his friends have dogs or as in the case of Trent, a cat named Fido, who thinks he's a dog.

In the center of Erthly is a large oak tree right in front of an equally stately mansion, complete with a high iron fence, expansive yard, double entry doors, framed by pillars, with lion's-head knockers and a tall tower with a pointy peak.  Living a singular existence in this home is quiet, no one has ever heard him utter a word, shy, elderly Charles Larue.  Speculations run, as varied as the thinkers themselves, among the children and adults as to what happened to the lady for whom he cared for decades.

Miserable, sick with an emptiness, Buddy digs his way to freedom.  But where can he go, where is his boy?  Mark solves his need for a dog by arranging a rally for a dog park in town at the city council meeting.

From his tower Charles Larue sees the little lost dog looking.  He sees the children planning and gathering.  And Larue feels a stirring for all his missed opportunities.

Mother Nature steps in to escalate events as does the calculating claws of Fido.  It's a rush, a race, to save what needs saving.  Untold stories of truth surface, as they are prone to do, when love steps in.

Infinite care has been given in the telling of this tale as Marion Dane Bauer wefts her words deftly through verse.  Her skill in this form of writing is intricately detailed; settings vividly pictured in your mind and characters so real you can feel them standing next to you.  Bauer tells a compelling story to be sure, but her gift is making you a part of the story, too.

Here are some passages from Little Dog, Lost, examples of Marion Dane Bauer's way with language.

The night thrummed
with crickets,
wood frogs,
The popular tree
in the front yard
rustled its usual

And Mark,
feeling the coolness,
the dampness
of the nose
and the snuffle of warm breath
against his palm,
fell instantly,
in love.

The summer evening
lay across Erthly
like a wool blanket,
heavy and smothering,
without a breath of breeze.
Thunder stammered in the distance.

Soft, black and white, illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell compliment the telling in the best possible way; evoking joy, sadness, desperation, waiting and love.  Chapter notations are placed inside a paw print, a small glimpse of a scene tucked into a corner, a larger view bleeding across the center or wordless two page spreads, are a further invitation to participate.  One of my favorites is the final page, a joyful moment commemorated.

Readers will be enveloped by the strength of emotion in this book, Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer.  Having read it twice now (but by no means the last time I will) I can give it a high recommendation for dog lovers but truly to anyone who seeks a book about how stories, ours and others, shape who we are.  Consider it a guaranteed winner as a read aloud.

Be sure to follow the link to Marion Dane Bauer's website embedded in her name above.  She includes a reader's theater and discussion guide as companions to this title.  And right now...I'm going to reach down and stroke the fur of the body lying across my feet who's running in her dreams as she no longer can in real life.

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