Monday, June 13, 2016

Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog (2009)

Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog
Eileen Beha
2009, Bloomsbury

A Yorkshire Terrier sold in a pet store to a wealthy Manhattan couple who pamper him.  On an unwisely early cruise north one spring, their yacht wrecks and the tiny dog known as Tango washes up, half dead, on the shore of a fishing village on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Cute cover, Anne of Green Gables connection - what's not to love?  The surprisingly magical story involves Tango, a 13-year-old foster child and her mysterious protector fox Beau, a 3-legged cat named Nigel and his band of renegade strays, and retired teacher Augusta Smith. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

See A White Horse (1963)

See A White Horse
Miska Miles, il. Wesley Dennis
1963, Little, Brown and Company

The dog looked like a good farm dog, the kind that could single out a pony from the range, or bring in the cows without flustering them.  Henry felt a lump in his throat, for this dog reminded him of Old Tuck.

Henry Marshall is mourning his dog when a stranger on a white horse comes riding along, accompanied by a brown dog.  Henry’s attracted to the dog, but still not sure. The stranger, on his way East, sells the pony to a neighbor and the dog is left behind.

This is a brief, surprising book which I liked more than I’d expected.  The title and the presence of Wesley Dennis, an illustrator best known for horse stories, led me to believe it was a horse story.  Turns out, it’s a dog story and one with enormous appeal.  Henry and the dog, unnamed until the last page, are clearly a match, but Henry’s not quite ready when he first has the chance to acquire the dog.  It’s rare now to see this – the recent emphasis on rescue and saving dogs means there’s less attention given to whether a person is ready to take on another dog. 

About Miska Miles (1899-)
Patricia Miles Martin also wrote as Jerry Lane and Patricia A. Miles.

Other books by Miska Miles – dogs
Somebody’s Dog
The Dog And The Boat Boy
William’s Dog
The Birthday Present
Woody’s Big Trouble
One Special Dog

Other books by Miska Miles – equines
Kickapoo (about a mule)(il. Wesley Dennis)
Pony In The Schoolhouse
The Bony Pony (as Patricia Miles Martin)
The Broomtail Bronc (as Patricia Miles Martin)
Horse And The Bad Morning
Friend Of Miguel

Other books by Miska Miles – other
Dusty And The Fiddlers
Annie And The Old One
Aaron’s Door
Jenny’s Cat
Otter In the Cove
Small Rabbit
Swim, Little Duck
This Little Pig
Tree House Town
Calvin And The Cub Scouts
Jump Frog Jump
Trina (aka Trina’s Boxcar)
Little Two And The Peach Tree
The Rice Bowl
The Pumpkin Patch
Be Brave, Charlie
A Long Ago Christmas
Her horse books at PonyMadBooklovers


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Smoke Across The Highlands (1964)

Give A Dog A Bad Name (published in the US as Smoke Across The Highlands)
Nigel Tranter (il. Cliff Schule (cover of US version)
1963, Collins (1964, The Platt & Munck Co.)

A collie dog was sitting on its haunches two or three yards away from them, head on one side, red tongue hanging out, brown eyes crinkled in the most friendly and normal fashion imaginable. It might have been sitting there watching them all afternoon.

Twin brothers Don and Ian MacDonald are vacationing in the Scottish Highlands with their parents, staying at a hill farm amidst the Cairngorm Mountains with their parents.  They’re hiking and looking for birds when they see a strange shape.  Stalking it to a cave, they discover a dog, a Border Collie.

It was a typical black-and-white sheep collie of the Scottish hill farm, with much more black to it than white, shaggy and somewhat unkempt looking…

They’re baffled why the sheepdog is alone up in the hills, away from any farm or flock, and why she seems wary of them.  Friendly and companionable, she nevertheless keeps a specific distance from the brothers. Finally, the boys head home and the collie vanishes.

The dog appears again a few days later, rescuing the boys when they’re trapped on a dangerous mountainside by heavy fog.  They start to call her Lady, and discover her history – her former owner was an old man who was lost in a blizzard the previous winter. When rescuers found his body, Lady (then named Liath) was lying alongside his body to protect him. Ian, who seems the more sensitive brother, is deeply upset at this but a good rousing mocking from his physician father soon puts him right. 

Dr. MacDonald further distinguishes himself the next day, when he’s hiking with the boys and stones Lady.  He has an excuse – if a strange one. The dog, under attack by a giant eagle, had come so close to the family that he was afraid the aggressive bird would be drawn to attack them.  Still, Ian is clearly unimpressed by his father’s logic.  Someday, Ian will write an angry book about his father.

The eagle at about two hundred feet folded its great wings close to its sides and dropped like a bomb. It did not swoop, just dropped straight down, almost faster than the eye could follow – although their ears heard the whistle of it. At the very last split second, its wings snapped open again to apply an air brake that prevented the creature from smashing itself into the hillside. And in that instant the collie leaped in a single spring from her crouching position a good couple of yards to one side – otherwise those great hanging talons would undoubtedly have struck her.

The eagle is being insanely territorial because its nest is in the area. Lady can’t move because her own den is in the area. And then farmers go on the warpath when some powerful predator begins tearing through their sheep. Lady is the obvious suspect, and the boys go rogue to protect her.

A naturalist-lover’s dog adventure with old-fashioned parenting and two reluctantly rebellious boys.  Nice.

Other books by Tranter
Spaniards Isle
Border Riding
Nestor The Monster
Birds of a Feather
The Deer Poachers
Something Very Fishy

About the Author
Nigel Tranter was Scottish (obviously) and an avid outdoorsman. He wrote a truly alarming number of books.  A full list can be seen here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New releases

The books of Albert Payson Terhune, the early 20th century writer whose heroic collies became a byword, are out in a new Kindle release.  For $0.99 you get:

Dog books
Lad: A Dog (1919)
Bruce (1920)
Buff: A Collie and other dog-stories (1921)
His Dog (1922)
Further Adventures of Lad (1922)

Non-dog books
Superwomen (1916)
Black Caesar's Clan (1922)

And Candlewick is releasing a new paperback edition of Because Of Winn-Dixie, the dog story first published in 2000.   The new cover seems to reflect the movie dog.

2015 book

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Mills of God (1972)


The Mills of God
William H. Armstrong, il. David Armstrong
1973, Doubleday & Company, Inc.

The boy could not remember how long ago he had started dreaming of a dog to keep him company in the hills. It was, he thought, even before his brother Amos had died. For even with a brother two years younger to play with, the world of Aaron Skinner was a lonely world on a dead-end road called Dry Hollow, a world which was nothing more than a wrinkle in the vast fold of hills that belonged to Thomas Ruffner.

Twelve-year-old Aaron Skinner saves up $15 to buy a dog, a Blue-Tick Hound he names Rowdy.  He plans to hunt raccoons in the fall, to earn money to buy clothing respectable enough the other boys in his class won’t reject him.  The Skinners are “poor white trash” as a classmate called him on his first day of school.  His parents, Sophie and Jake, aren’t trash, but Jake’s meek and Aaron’s inherited his mild father’s dislike of confrontation.  This meekness will come back around to haunt them all when Jake’s overbearing boss, Thomas Ruffner, bullies him for one last, critical time.

A strange, sometimes horrific book.  Aaron, whose worried parents can tell is losing his hopefulness, finds a brief respite from the grinding indifference of classmates and neighbors when he acquires Rowdy.  But when he's faced with losing the dog, he begins to dream of death. Of a neighbor who killed himself after being tormented by malicious gossip and vandals. Of a local ghost, a slave owner whose last order was to be buried standing upright so she could continue to oversee her fields. And a misunderstanding brings exact, brutal justice to the widely loathed Mr. Ruffner. 

Within this larger book, there are brief moments of boy-with-dog: 

The dog caused the boy to almost trio and fall several times. After the washing and rubbing in the sun, it seemed that Rowdy couldn't walk close enough to his new master. The new collar hung loosely on the dog's neck and the chain dangled freely in the boy's hand. After Aaron had become entangled several times by Rowdy circling and looking up into his eyes, the boy unbuckled the collar, wipe both sides of it on his pants, then rolled it up and put it in his pocket.

The quote, the title

Though the mills of God grind slowly
yet they grind exceedingly small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
with exactness grinds He all.

A translation by 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of 17th century German poet Friedrich von Logau, who was in turn translating an ancient Greek philosopher, Sextus.  And this is what happens when you let history teachers from exclusive prep schools write children’s books.

Books – children’s fiction
Sounder (1969)
Sour Land (1971)
The MacLeod Place (1972)
Joanna’s Miracle

The Author

Born in Virginia and raised on a farm, Armstrong attended first the Augusta Military Academy, then Hampden-Sydney College and then the University of Virginia. He ended up teaching at a New England prep school which went co-ed in 1960.  His very strongly   

Armstrong is best known for Sounder, his children’s novel about a faithful hound and his imprisoned master, which won the Newberry Award in 1970. 

He was married and had 3 children, including an artist son, David, who illustrated this book. 


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shelter on Blue Barns Road (1981)

Shelter on Blue Barns Road
C.S. Adler
1981, Macmillian Publishing Co.

Lonely and bored after moving from Brooklyn to rural upstate New York, 13-year-old Betsy discovers the local dog pound is near her new home. She wanders in and is caught by the presence of a Doberman Pinscher.

In the center of one cage stood a sleek black, pointy-eared Doberman with brown fur lining his undersides and half circles of brown above his intelligent eyes. Ears at attention, he watched her intently. His dignity impressed her - the way he stood so quietly.

Betsy has an interesting family. Her father is a former teacher, who was fired.

It wasn't Pops's fault. The kids had driven him out of his mind, so he'd shoved a couple around and used bad language.

Her older brother, 17-year-old Hal, is angry at their father for the upheaval he's caused, but Betsy remains loyal. She knows that her once close bond with him has suffered in part because as she's grown older, she reminds him of his students, who he can't control and who taunt him. He was famous in the school as an easy teacher, one whose students push him to see how far they can go. Betsy's mother, who's also frustrated with the man of the house, has gotten a new job here as a guidance counselor. Betsy feels herself a changeling, who looks nothing like the men in her family and, with 2 teacher parents, bad at school. Feeling dumb, feeling unwanted, she gravitates toward the Doberman when she discovers he's also a freak, an unwanted dog surrendered for biting two people.

His owner died, an old lady who had an appliance store a quarter of a mile down the road from here. She used that Doberman to guard the store nights. He even made the paper once. Two guys broke in, and by the time the police got there, they were chewed up so bad that the police had to take them to the hospital instead of jail.

Betsy's also shocked to discover the animal shelter kills unwanted dogs and cats.

An animal shelter! What a laugh that was. "Animal shelter" for a place that killed dogs. She closed her eyes and tried to find a hiding place inside her head, but the horror crept in after her. She wondered if there were other shelters, if all over the country animals were being "put down" because no one wanted them. The idea sickened her. She got up and began pacing around her bedroom, biting on her knuckles. First, she had to save the Doberman. Then she would see what she could do for those others.

Betsy is baffled that the shelter's two employees, manager Mr. Berrier and 16-year-old kennel worker Bill Wing, seem resigned to the killing. They seem nice, yet they kill dogs and they will, eventually, kill the dog called Zoro.

The plot is more than this - it follows Betsy to her new school and through her father's testy relationship with his family and into Bill's reluctant participation in a drug sale - but it centers on Betsy's outrage at the tragedy of death, and her desperate need to help Zoro. She thinks he needs her, which he does, but since that's true of all the dogs in the shelter, her drive to help him specifically is interesting. In one scene halfway through the book, Betsy comes to the shelter to find Bill leading a gentle old dog to the gas chamber. Two new dogs arrived that morning and this dog has to be killed to make space. Betsy could easily have interceded for this dog, which her parents might well have accepted as a pet (they understandably refuse to let her adopt the violent, dangerous Doberman), but she remains silent as Bill kills him. In truth, her desire to help Zoro is not entirely altruistic.  She looks at that powerful, self-contained dog and sees a power she lacks, and she covets it.

In the end Betsy loses Zoro. The Doberman attacks and mauls a man, and is killed. She stands over his grave and vows.

Someday, she promised herself, when she was grown and had her own home, she'd find a Doberman puppy, black with brown underneath and ears that stuck straight up. She would raise him to love people and she would name him Zoro.

A young teen who has just spent the book alternating between trying to soothe an anxious, angry father (fired for lashing out inappropriately) and bonding with an anxious, angry dog (sentenced to die for lashing out inappropriately), who sees only logistical reasons why it's bad that Zoro lunges for everyone but her - this girl is now vowing to stay the course and stick a pattern of being drawn to powerful, aggressive individuals. It's a troubling ending, although the author probably intended it to be uplifting or motivating. It is, in a sense. Zoro was raised poorly and developed into a dangerous dog because of that. Raising a Doberman puppy well would probably prevent that outcome.  But it's interesting how current this 34-year-old book is in its insistence that the dog, a Doberman, only turned dangerous because of abuse. The Doberman, a breed designed for guard and police work, is innately aggressive and while not every member of the breed is actively dangerous, they pose a much higher risk for aggressive behavior than, say, a Golden Retriever.  With some breeds, you would have to really abuse them to create aggressive behavior and even then, a lot wouldn't show violence. With other breeds, creating aggressive behavior is much easier and can be accomplished just by not actively staying on top of the dog's behavior. Dobermans are one of the latter breeds.

Other issues:
The shelter in the book uses a gas chamber to kill dogs. This method is now on its way out, due to concerns about its effectiveness and humaneness. Many states have both abolished it and banned it in favor of intravenous injection. New York, where this book takes place, requires IV euthanasia.

Of course, euthanizing any shelter dog for any reason is now debated.  Proponents of "no-kill" claim it's the way of the future and the only humane approach to sheltering.  Others express concerns about long-term warehousing of unwanted pets - some dogs at no-kill shelters end up spending their whole lives there, so you'll see ads for "Rex, who's been here since his birth 8 years ago" - and
about the morality of keeping alive physically healthy but dangerously aggressive dogs who can never be rehomed without placing the community at risk. There is also tension as calling your shelter no-kill places a certain inevitable stigma on every other shelter in the area - most of which are supporting you because when a no-kill shelter must turn away unwanted pets due to space, the "kill shelter" has to take them.

Zoro, like most Dobermans in the US, has cropped (stuck straight up) ears. This practice of mutilating and "training" a puppy's ears to increase the sleek, dangerous appearance of various breeds has been banned in Europe, and will probably, eventually, end in the US as well.

Paperback edition

C.S. Adler's website