Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray - Ann Martin

This book came into our family unexpectedly. It is required reading for all third-graders in my kids' school, and has been for years. While my son was home sick with me Thursday and Friday, we decided to read it together. The story is told from the perspective of a stray dog, from its puppy years to old age. How precious is that? How can I not read this?

Squirrel starts out her life in a farm shed with Mother, Bone (her brother) and a variety of mice and cats. Life is good...Mother teaches Squirrel and Bone how to hunt, forage for garbage and to stay hidden from humans. But when Mother disappears, presumed dead, Bone and Squirrel decide to venture off. There begins a difficult life of constant hunger and a struggle to hunt and find garbage to eat. It is a battle against the elements. Of cold nights sleeping in woods, fighting off other stray dogs. Then there are the humans...some are kind, and leave out food for Squirrel, but others are cruel, selfish and irresponsible. Some want to capture Squirrel and take her to an animal shelter. Only at the end of Squirrel's life is she rescued by a loving, gentle old lady and finds the safe, warm home that she's always wanted.

Being a dog lover, I enjoyed the experience of reading about a dog's life from the perspective of the dog. While the prose was awkward at times, and a bit repetitive, overall it was an entertaining but heartbreaking story. The one predominant message in the book is responsible pet ownership. Impatience with "dogisms" (having indoor accidents, barking, digging through garbage), physical cruelty, and neglect made me angry at individuals who think it is cool to have an animal, but don't hold up their end of the bargain. When you adopt a pet, they are yours for life, not just until you get bored with them or they are inconvenient. I'll get off my soapbox now!

I'm impressed that our school has established this book as a third grade requirement, as the official age range is grades 3 through 5. My son was able to read it easily, but I suspect a slower reader is going to struggle a bit with it. There are scenes of cruelty and death, and a few mentions of bodily functions, but nothing inappropriate for this age range. My takeaway? It reaffirmed the notion that I am over my grieving period and I need another dog!

4 out of 5 stars


Unknown said...

How exciting! Are you seriously considering getting a new dog? Which breeds of dog do you like? I've never owned a dog, but always wanted one when I was younger. I love bog, intelligent dogs like Golden Retrievers and Labradors. I may get one one day, but for now my hands are full enough!

Susan said...

Oh boy, this sounds like one that will make me cry, but life-affirming as well. Have you read any of Jon Katz's books about his border collies and labs and life on his farm in upstate New York? I bawled at the end of A Good Dog and I just read Izzy and Lenore which had plenty of tearful moments in it, too. I think you would like them.

Melody said...

Sounds like one emotional read to me, but it's all good. I love a tear-jerker story anytime. And I think it's good to teach the young that we should love and protect the animals - be it our pets or not.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - We had a Lab five years ago and had to have her put to sleep. She was wonderful with the kids, but the shedding hair about drove me to drink. The next dog will be one that doesn't shed! My husband and I are in different camps on this issue - he is not convinced we need one. I'm still working on him!

Susan - Anything with dogs makes me emotional. I haven't recovered from losing our Lab, even five years later! Even though my husband is against getting another dog, he loves the border collies. I will check out Katz's books.

Melody - yeah, this story definitely has strong messages, which is a good thing. It's a nice, easy read that we all enjoyed!

Molly said...

We currently have 3 labs and you are right, the shedding is a bit - ok a lot - of a problem (but the love shared is well worth it).

My husband came home last June to find our female lab had died in her sleep on the living room floor. She was only 3 years old and I still miss her terribly. I am not sure that I am emotionally ready to read this book yet - but I can tell that it is a great one to add to the bookshelf for a later time.

I hope you find a breed of dog that both you and your husband like. They do bring such joy to a family.

Amy Reads Good Books said...

How wonderful that you're ready for a new dog!

My stepdaughter is a serious dog lover. I'll have to ask her if she's read this. She's 10, so I think she'd love it!

Ingrid said...

This sounds like a wonderful book - I added it to my wish list.

Susan - I love Jon Katz' book. "Izzy and Lenore" in particular is his best one yet, in my opinion.

Beth F said...

Sounds like a terrific one for young readers. And keep us informed of the hunt for a new dog.

Michele said...

It's spring time....perfect for a new puppy/dog in the household. Let us know what you decide!

Sandy Nawrot said...

You all have WAY more optimism than I do regarding a new Nawrot dog. My husband is dead set against it, and have had no luck in changing his mind yet. After all of the summer travels, maybe I will resort to my full-court press.

Melissa said...

This sounds like one my niece would enjoy. She is on the upper end of the reading age, but is animal lover and would probably like it even if it is a little easy for her to read.

Good luck on finding a new dog! If it was up to my hubby he would happily give you one of ours.

Kim said...

Sorry the negotiations about the new Nawrot canine have not been successful for your side, so far. Perhaps you could wear the opposition down with constant doggie discussion, have various books about the house which tell tales of lovable dogs and their companionship, pin lots of cute hound dog photos on the fridge door, of course and begin sending out invitations to friends to come along to chez Nawrot accompanied by their adorable pet (only the short haired, well behaved ones, though) When all that fails, stir the kids up into a revolt! That's how my sister won the new pooch debate in her house :)
Jon Katz 'A Dog Year' is a fantastic book and a good start for the coffee table book pile! Good luck, do keep us posted.