Sixteen years ago, nearly to the day, my husband and his youngest brother died in an automobile accident. Month after month I barely existed. On August 21, 2000 a small chocolate Labrador female puppy was born; the runt of the litter. For us it was love at first sight. I named her Xena after the television warrior princess realizing strength was essential for her survival. She was so small it required feeding her three times a day. I was allowed to have her at school in a crate in my office. (I let her out quite a bit thanks to my principal, Dick Swenor.) During story times she would sit on my lap as I read to the students. She saved me; filling my life with joy.
Different breeds of dogs are known for particular traits. One thing they have in common is their ability to know when they are needed. A dog guy to the core and author Michael J. Rosen (The Hound Dog's Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers) has penned a remarkable story about a cattle dog who accomplished a feat out of the ordinary. The Tale of Rescue (Candlewick, October 13, 2015) is a tribute to this dog, to all dogs, who do as they have always done. They save us one heart at a time.
This is a tale about a cattle dog. She had a name, but only one person knew it and usually he called her with herding words like cast and wait and by and that'll do. Mostly he called her with whistles.
After reading about the life of the cattle dog and her farmer in the first few pages, we are introduced to a family of three. This mother, father and their ten-year-old son are staying in a cabin which is part of a local lodge in this region of Ohio near the Appalachian Mountains. Living in Florida they wanted to give their son a winter with snow. Each day of their stay they experienced the beauty the season has to offer; cross-country skiing, hiking through a foot of snow, building snowmen, sledding and snowball fights. On their last day a final morning walk before breakfast to the lodge quickly turned into all the makings for a tragic end.
As the weather is apt to do, a sunny day clouded over and within no time at all they found themselves in a whiteout. Even though they were close to their destination, nothing was visible to them. Retracing their steps back to their cabin was fruitless as the flakes were falling at a rapid rate filling in their tracks. The drifts of heavy wet snow were soon at the height of the boy's waist. Fatigue, the cold and lack of nourishment weighted their progress. The helplessness of not being able to get your bearings in this kind of weather added to their growing panic.
By the time, hours later, when the snow subsided they were surrounded by four feet of it. They trampled down a small circular den of sorts and huddled together. Shouting would not help in the wild and wicked wind but the father every so often managed to thaw his lips enough to send out a piercing whistle. This storm was not finished. Freezing rain descended leaving a thick crust.
Back at the farm the wintry fury had sent the cattle dog working her hardest to herd the forty cows back to safety. Now at rest her ears perked. Had that been a whistle? This was a new kind but it called to her. It was a treacherous journey to find the source of the whistle. Initially leery the parents soon followed their son's lead warming the frozen canine with their stiff chilly hands. All too soon she left them.
She did awaken the farmer but all her attempts to make him understand failed. It was now dark. The time for the trio with the dropping temperatures was shortening. With the spirit of her kind and the work she had been trained to do, this cattle dog with a name only known by one got busy. Eight years later this tale continued out of deep gratitude and affection...and
Yet stories do not always have the ending we imagine they will.
Michael J. Rosen writes with the sure knowledge of dogs, setting and family. His sensory descriptions of each are eloquent and brimming with emotion. You are inside the story with every single page turn. Here are several sample passages.
The paired hearts of deer tracks stamped in the snow, stalactites of icicles along their cabin's timber eaves, snow angels, frost-crazed windowpanes---their snapshots captured every wintery thing they'd never encountered in Florida. ... Out the cabin's windows the ground glistened like finely grated diamonds---the sand at the beach near their home did the same thing---when the sun pried a hole in the cloud cover.
The family plodded ahead, single file: The father shoved and tromped the snow to make the passage easier for his wife; she did the same for their son. The wind's blasts slapped their faces; every tear and bead of sweat burned their skin. They had to squint so that the snowflakes would melt on their lashes instead of stab at their eyes.
Raced would have been the right word if the field were anything but four feet of compacted snow capped with ice. A heeler's legs, remember, are twelve inches long; the snow was four times that...in its lowest spots. Even the dog's nose reached no higher than thirty inches when she craned to sniff. This time, racing meant smacking hard into the crusted snow and slipping---one foot punching through the shell of ice, stumbling, and scrambling to get both feet repositioned.
The boy rested his cheek on the dog's chilled and soaked coat. When a tear spilled across his cheek, its warmth surprised him---the furnace inside him could still heat the water in his eyes. A second later, it cooled on the dog's cold fur. But as he held his face against her silver-black coat, her body's heat rose and eased the frost's rawness on that patch of his skin.
The watercolor painting rendered by Stan Fellows spanning the front and back of the dust jacket is a lovely look and introduction to those interspersed throughout this title. Twenty-seven more images enhance the story beginning with the double-page picture of the farm on the title page as the cattle dog chases a cow home to the barn. Most of the illustrations are on single pages but the one two-page wordless illustration clearly depicts the family's plight in the whiteout.
His use of light and shading are exquisite; not an easy task in snowy scenes. His brush strokes capture the essence of every scene captivating the reader with the intensity of the moment. With great skill he brings us into the image with his use of perspective.
One of my favorite illustrations is the one of the cattle dog opposite the first chapter page. She is seated on a hill with the pastures, few clouds and rays of sunlight in the background. Her gaze is shifted to the right of the page, neck turned as if listening. Ears alert, tongue hanging out, she looks ready to spring into action.
The Tale of Rescue written by Michael J. Rosen with illustrations by Stan Fellows is a heart-pounding story of survival and a heartwarming story of a dog doing the work they love. You can't stop reading it once you begin. It would make for an outstanding read aloud. It has my highest recommendation.
To learn more about Michael J. Rosen and Stan Fellows and their work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. A portion of the two-page picture I referenced earlier can be viewed at the publisher's website. Enjoy the book trailer.
Yesterday afternoon my sweet Xena passed away. To honor her I will be writing fifteen blog posts about fifteen dog books recently published. For those of you interested here is an Animoto in tribute to her.
To further highlight her life I am giving away a copy of Michael J. Rosen's two books mentioned here.
Two beautiful stories. I can't wait to read The Tale of Rescue and I my eyes were misty watching Xena's wonderful life. What a blessing she was for you Margie! Thanks for sharing her story with us~ReplyDelete
I believe you and your students are really going to enjoy The Tale of Rescue. Xena was indeed a gift to me. I feel so fortunate to have had her spend her life with me. You are welcome Becky and thank you.Delete
What a beautiful tribute to Xena! I love that you will be featuring 15 dog books in her honor, and as I've told you several times, I love the way you write about books, with such care, attention, keen insight and heart.ReplyDelete
The Tale of Rescue looks wonderful and inspiring. I love to read about dogs, their innate sense of knowing, their fierce loyalty and bravery.
Xena was one in a million. You saved each other. That is a story in itself to hold close and cherish.
Thank you Jama for your continued support and kind thoughts. The Tale of Rescue is a beautiful book in text and pictures. You won't want to miss it.Delete
Xena was indeed a one in a million kind of friend. She will be in my heart forever.
This is a book that I want to get. I love books about dogs. I also love the joy dogs bring to our lives.ReplyDelete
I'm so sorry for the loss of your Xena. You must miss her terribly. I'm also sorry for the loss of your husband sixteen years ago.
As always, I enjoy your blog and enjoyed the pictures of Xena. One can see how much joy she brought you and how much she enjoyed her life with you. My dogs love story time as well. They sit and listen and look at the pictures when I read.
This is a book for you Catherine. It's 103 pages of pure pleasure.Delete
Thank you for your kind words about Xena. I miss her more than words can express.
Thank you for visiting my blog Catherine. I will keep the joy she brought into this world and my life close to me. The peace a dog's presence brings into story times is amazing. My student's loved having her there with them. Even when she got older she was a visitor to the building. I never went there to work in the evenings or weekends or vacations without her. We were pretty much inseparable. Thank you.
This is beautiful, Margie. I'll be following along, thinking of Xena with each story shared. Lots of love.ReplyDelete
Thank you Carter. Our dogs certainly do leave paw prints on our hearts. ♥Delete
What a beautiful review for a wonderful book. Not only do I have one for myself, but have also purchased several as gifts for my dog loving friends. And what a sweet tribute to Xena, who I know you miss terribly. Your photos of Xena are priceless and I can imagine how may warm memories of her will live in your heart forever. Thank you for sharing both stories.ReplyDelete
Thank you Florence. I am so happy to know you are sending this book out into the world for others to read. It was exactly the book I needed to read on Monday.Delete
I do miss Xena more than words can express but making the video of her pictures was an honor to a life lived to the fullest. She was one very special being. And you are welcome.
♥. Especially loved the Animoto tribute to Xena. Win, win, win.ReplyDelete
Thank you Teresa. She was a treasure. ♥Delete
My family and I have been thinking of you and Xena a lot. You're both in all our hearts. Arf Arf Forever! <3
Josh your words have warmed my heart on this day. Woof! Woof! Forever and a day! ♥Delete
I'm putting "The Tale of Rescue" on my list of books for my fellow dog lovers (I come from a long line of them). What a fine review, Margie! Also . . . Xena. The Animoto. Oh my <3 . Still thinking of you. xoReplyDelete
Dog lovers are going to be completely captivated by this Beth. Thank you for your thoughts on my review. This book was like a balm to my grief on Monday. I appreciate your continued thoughts Beth because this grief is lasting. xoDelete
I am so sorry to hear about Xena. You were lucky to have her, and she was so lucky to have you. Rory, Nessie, and I will be praying for you both.
Thank you. We were indeed lucky to have found one another. Your prayers (and Rory's and Nessie's) are appreciated.
What a special tribute to a special dog, Margie. How beautiful to see Xena romping in the snow and digging on the beach. But maybe the best image in my mind is that gorgeous girl on your lap in the school library! Honoring Xena through a series of posts about dog books is brilliant. I look forward to following along. Sending love and hugs!ReplyDelete
Thank you Victoria. She was the best kind of being; totally full of joy and most giving. Those pictures brought lots of smiles to me too. She gave a lot of happiness to those students. They really enjoyed seeing her. Reading the dog books for these posts is exactly what I need to be doing right now. Sending those hugs and love back to you and Kipper.Delete
Margie, thank you so much for sharing the video of beautiful Xena. Oh, you can see your love shine through.ReplyDelete
Thinking of you lots.
You are welcome, Michele. We loved each other fiercely. I appreciate your thoughts. It really helps.Delete
What a touching tribute, Margie, to your best friend Xena. Just as you have a gift with words for all the books you review, Xena was truly a gift to you throughout your life and hers. She will be forever remembered by all those whose lives she touched. janeReplyDelete
Thank you friend for visiting my blog. As you well know she really was my truest companion. She was indeed a precious present. You and Don were especially important to her. She could see you from across the street and would want to go for a visit. She could smell you even before you came into view when we were walking. She loved you both. Thank you.Delete
My condolences, Margie. My heart aches for you. What a wonderful way to honor Xena's memory. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." This Dr. Seuss quote always makes me feel better when good things come to an end.ReplyDelete
Thank you very much C. L. It has been a joy to think back over all the wonderful moments and share them here on my blog.Delete
Hi, Margie. I just discovered this post through a link on Jama's blog today. Your video of Xena made me cry--what a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your losses--of Xena, and of your husband and his brother years ago. As a fellow dog lover, I look forward to reading more reviews of dog books.ReplyDelete
I am so grateful to Jama for posting about this series at Alphabet Soup. I watch the video tribute almost every day Linda. I miss her more than I thought possible. I hope you enjoy the rest of the reviews. I'll be talking about more dog books outside of this series because I simply can't help myself. Thank you for visiting.Delete