Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lion Hound
Jim Kjelgaard, il. Raymond Thorley (cover)
1955, Holiday House

There were mule deer, lordly elk, a few antelope, bears, coyotes, many kinds of small game. Among them, like tawny puffs of smoke, slunk the creeping mountain lions that were able to break a bull's neck and yet were so secretive.

In the wild, rich beauty of Arizona's rimrock, two hunters and a hound confront a monstrous lion. Johnny Torrington admires the indepedent red hound Buck from the moment he sees the pup in old Jake Kane's cabin. Buck, however, has a heart for only one master, Kane. The coming of a great mountain lion, raised in captivity to enormous size and possessed of almost supernatural cunning, changes everything.

The lion's mind was full of memories and his heart with hate.

The book is nearly as much the lion's as it is the man's or the dog's. Captured as a cub by hunters who shoot his mother, the lion is used as a roadside attraction, chained to a doghouse and fed regularly. With this easy diet, he grows to over 200lbs, a giant among lions, and when he finally breaks free, he goes on a killing rampage through the rimrock country of Arizona.

Unusually for a Kjelgaard book, this one splits into various perspectives. The mountain lion and the old hunter Jake Kane have the lion's share (er) of the time, the remainder split between Johnny and Buck. Johnny loves the wilderness he lives in and, like many young Kjelgaard characters, wishes he was from an earlier time, when he could have become a trapper and hunter like old Jake. He's decided to become a forest ranger, a job where he can stay in the wild, but he still loves hunting hounds.

"There's a trackin' snow and I'm goin' after that big cat tomorrow. Think Johnny would like to go?"
"Ha!" Allis chuckled. "Try to keep him from it! That boy's almost as hound-crazy as you are!"

Jake Kane and his contemporary, Johnny's grandfather Allis, are old hunters, throwbacks to earlier days, and they both know their time is past. Kane still hunts with a pack, but Allis's last pack is greying and sleeping by the fire. When Kane loses a dog to the lion, he becomes determine to kill the big cat, which is also wreaking havoc with local livestock. But the cat is different than any other cat he's ever chased.

The cat, having been caught in a tree as a cub, learned young to never climb a tree to escape dogs. Motivated as much by rage against humans as by hunger, the lion employs unusual tactics to first avoid, and then kill, its hunters.

Kjelgaard never was one to flinch from violence and killing in his books; the natural settings and the hunting background of most of them made that inevitable in any case. But even for Kjelgaard, there's a lot of death in this book. None of it's exploitative or graphic; the realism of it has a chilling effect.

I read most of Jim Kjelgaard's dog books when I was a child, but I admit I really never had a good idea of where they took place. As far as I was concerned, they were 'west.' So I googled around looking up Rimrock and found that it's both the name of an area in Arizona and a geology term meaning 'a top layer of resistant rock on a plateau outcropping with vertical or near vertical walls.' And Kjelgaard lived in Phoenix for a while.

Sounder - old hound
Pat - old hound
Major - hound in Kane's pack
Doe - hound in Kane's pack
Rowdy - hound in Kane's pack
Flutter - hound in Kane's pack
Sally - hound in Kane's pack, mother of Buck
Old Nick - tomcat

About the Author
Raised largely in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, Kjelgaard loved hunting, dogs and the wilderness, which became the three themes of his many books for children. His most famous book, Big Red, became a Disney film in 1962.

Other Books by Author
Big Red
Irish Red
Outlaw Red
Desert Dog
A Nose For Trouble
Snow Dog
Wild Trek
Dave and his dog Mulligan
Duck-Footed Hound
Rescue Dog of the High Pass
Trading Jeff and His Dog
Trailing Trouble
Two Dogs and a Horse

Other Editions:
Bantam Skylark (paperback) 1985

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Joan Hewett, il. Donald Carrick
1987, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

She's always ready to play when I am. She doesn't run fast, and now and then she stops to rest. But she wags her tail to keep the game going, and then she chases me some more.

The narrator, Cindy, tells us about her 16-year-old dog Rosalie, who is deaf and can't go on hikes anymore, but who is loved and cared for just the same. And although Rosalie's no longer a sleek young dog, Cindy knows she can still do the most important things.

Rosalie's tail goes round and round, and she stays and plays.

This picture book is about a beloved family dog, with matter-of-fact comments on how the dog is old and how that's different from a young dog. It does not end in the dog's death, and does not talk about dying at all, which is a relief from most books having to do with older dogs. There is also a very nice bit where the dog is taken to the vet to treated for what seems to be arthritis. The narrator says that the vet can't cure her, but can make her feel better, and that Rosalie gets vitamins. All of this is a very good message about caring for older animals to prolong their happy lives.

The gentle watercolors ably illustrate the weakening but still enthusiastic body of what looks like a Golden Retriever, and her human friends and family.

Author Joan Hewett seems to have written many nonfiction picture books in collaboration with her husband, photographer Richard Hewett. Illustrator Donald Carrick illustrated many children's books, and co-wrote several of his own with his wife, Carol, including The Barn and a series about Patrick's Dinosaurs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

McDuff's New Friend
Rosemary Wells, il. Susan Jeffers
Hyperion, 2001

McDuff looked out the window with his ears in the radar position. "Woof," said McDuff.

A little white dog awaits Santa's coming on a snowy Christmas Eve.

Adorable illustrations on this chunky board book convey a heavy snowstorm and a cozy indoor scene with equal skill. The story is simple but satisfying. And McDuff's wardrobe is absolutely adorable.

Other books by the Author
McDuff Moves In
McDuff And The Baby
McDuff Comes Home
McDuff Goes To School
McDuff's Wild Romp
McDuff Saves The Day
McDuff's Christmas
The McDuff Stories

Other books by the Illustrator
My Pony
All The Pretty Horses

Author Website

Illustrator Website

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Soul Of The Silver Dog
Lynn Hall
1992, Bullseye Book (Random House)

Her eyes dampened. She took off her glasses and leaned her head back against the pillow and stroked Sterling with slow, hypnotic movements. The tension was eased, stroke by stroke, but the old sad ache remained.

14-year-old Corianne Wendel adopts the blind champion show dog Sterling, feeling an immediate connection with the helpless, unwanted animal. Her own family was torn apart by the illness of her baby sister Bethy, whose short life and death from cystic fibrosis broke up her parents' marriage, and Cory's never felt quite noticed by either father or mother since. Her friendship with Lisa 'Lee' Winterbottom, whose mother shows dogs, has taken the place of family, and led her to Sterling. Cory teaches Sterling how to navigate despite his dwindling vision from canine glaucoma. Searching for a way to show off her beautiful, intelligent dog, she hits upon the fledgling dog sport of agility. And the preparation for Sterling's first show brings the tattered bits of her family back together again.

The closed tunnel bothered Sterling at first. When his face hit the fabric barrier, he stopped dead, afraid he would walk into pain. But Cory's hand reached through, touched him, and showed him how to lower his head and follow her fingers under the loosely closed end of the tunnel. After several attempts he no longer hesitated.

A well-written animal book from the reliable Lynn Hall. As always, her characters are a bit forthright and blunt, but the quality writing and strong plots, which depend on character rather than mystery plots and romance, make this a very good book. Unusually for Hall, there are several passages seen from the dog's POV. Not so unusually for Hall, the mood throughout is rather gloomy - all success, all joy, all love is temporary, and the shadow always returns.

Galena, Illinois

Blue Shadows Sterling - Bedlington Terrier, champion show dog, male
Augie - Cocker Spaniel
Borowis - Borzoi, male
Wendy - Borzoi, female
Zhivago - Borzoi, male
Scatterbrain - white cat with black and tan spots

Other books by Author
Lynn Hall's Dog Stories
Barry, The Bravest St. Bernard
The Post Office Dog
Owney The Travelling Dog
To Catch A Tartar (aka Nobody's Dog)
The Mystery of The Lost And Found Hound
Dog Of The Bondi Castle
Bob, Watchdog Of The River
Dennison's Daughter
The Shy Ones
The Mystery Of The Schoolhouse Dog
Flash, Dog Of Old Egpyt
Murder At The Spaniel Show
Riff, Remember
Halsey's Pride
Danger Dog

Dog Showing For Beginners
Kids And Dog Shows
Careers For Dog Lovers

Books about Lynn Hall
Young Adult Authors Series - Presenting Lynn Hall Susan Stan

Friday, February 6, 2009

Going On Sixteen
Betty Cavanna, il. unknown
19__, The Westminster Press

Julie's an awkward, shy 13-year-old agonizing over her unpopularity when she's given three orphaned collie puppies to raise. Her father, long widowed, is a gruff farmer but the puppies are all the comfort a motherless girl could want after a hard day in the freshman class. As Julie sorts out her social problems, the puppies grow to leggy adolescence and are reclaimed by their owner, a famous breeder who'd left them with the farmer to grow up. But by now, Julie loves one of the puppies, Sonny - and as the breeder and his show handler will find out, Sonny loves her.

Deliriously he flung himself on Julie - barking, writhing, panting. She stumbled back from the force with which he hurled himself against her. He was a vibrant mass of ectasy, trying to lick her face, moaning and sobbing with joy.

and the comment by the breeder's kennel man:

I've seen 'em like that. All fire and flame for one person. For the rest, nothing.

There is the continuing story of Julie's struggle with self-consciousness and making friends, which is worthy in its own right, but the heart of the story is right there.

Nice if simple drawings for illustrations - can't find the illustrator.

suburban Philadelphia

Show dog
Shy girl

Other Books by Author
Puppy Stakes
The Black Spaniel Mystery

About the Author
Also wrote as Betsy Allen and Elizabeth Headley

Other Editions

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lad, A Dog
Albert Payson Terhune
1919, E.P. Dutton

Lad was an eighty-pound collie, thoroughbred in spirit as well as blood. He had the benign dignity that was a heritage from endless generations of high-strain ancestors. He had, too, the gay courage of a d'Artagnan, and an uncanny wisdom. Also - who could doubt it, after a look into his mournful brown eyes - he had a Soul.

Having thrilled to that typical Terhune introduction, I have to plunge into the negatives first. This book - this whole series - is old. Very old. By today's standards, the Master is abusive to his adored dogs. He uses a 'dog whip' on Lady and Lad in the first chapter. He's also abusive toward other people. He lets Lad, slumped miserably on guard at the Mistress's sick bed, snarl at the nurse every time she passes. He relentlessly lectures anyone who objects to being constantly supervised by an 80lb dog with a mild case of resentment toward outsiders that Lad is a perfect gentleman. He seems to see no contradiction in this view of the dog, and his many tales of Lad trying to kill people - not just bite, but actually rip their throats out.

In one of the many jolly recollections of Lad's defense of The Place, the collie, having bitten and driven off a would-be burglar, pursues the man. As the Master arrives on the scene:

On the ground below, stunned by striking against a stone jardiniere in his fall, the burglar sprawled senseless upon his back. Above him was Lad, his searching teeth at last having found their coveted throat-hold. Steadily, the great dog was grinding his way through toward the jugular.

These 'boy's own adventure' meets Hemingway action scenes are thrilling. I saw nothing wrong with them as a child. As an adult, I'm forced to admit that Terhune was a jerk, and his dogs were scary.

Now for the good. Terhune's ruthless description of breeding trends, voiced by a show-ring expert in "For A Bit Of Ribbon," rings true:

"The up-to-date collie - this year's style, at least - is bred with a borzoi (wolfhound) head and with graceful, small bones. What's the use of his having brain and scenting power? He's used for exhibition or kept as a pet nowadays - not to herd sheep. Long nose, narrow head.."

Lad's Lassie Come Home-style travails lost in New York City are wildly over the top (though they seemed absolutely real and perfectly acceptable when I was a child who just loved to read dog books) but the chapter "Lost!" contains a passionate cry of compassion at the plight of a lost dog.

A dog, at some turn in the street, misses his master - doubles back to where the human demigod was last seen - darts ahead once more to find him, through the press of other human folk - halts, hesitates, begins the same maneuvers all over again; then stands, shaking in panic at his utter aloneness.

But it is in "The Gold Hat" that Terhune presents a scene that encapsulates the unique bond between dogs and humans. The Mistress is trying to get Lad to go through an intricate set of maneuvers generally known only to trained sheepdogs. The willing collie, utterly puzzled, does his best to obey her.

Her pointing hand waved him ahead and, as before, he follower its guidance. Walking heavily, his brain more and more befogged, Lad obeyed... Head and tail down, he went. But, as he passed the third of those silly posts, she recalled him. Gleeful to know he was no longer in disgrace, he galloped toward the Mistress; only to be halted again...Utterly bewildered at his usually moodless Mistress' crazy mood and spurred by the sharp reprimand in her voice, Lad moved away at a crestfallen walk. Four times he stopped and looked back at her, in piteous appeal, asking forgiveness of the unknown fault for which she was ordering him away; but always he was met by the same fierce "Go on!"

What other animal has both the intelligence and the patience to attempt the incomprehensible with us? Lad, of course, completes the course and wins the day.

Anniversary edition illustrated by Sam Savitt (pictured)

Dogs and other animals
Lad - sable and white Rough Collie
Lady - gold and white Rough Collie
Wolf - gold and white Rough Collie
Knave - red/gold Rough Collie with black 'saddle'
Ch. Coldstream Guard - gold and white Rough Collie
Melisande - Prussian Sheep Dog (maybe)
Ch. Lochnivar III - blue merle Rough Collie
Mac - gold and white Rough Collie
Rex - mixed breed of Rough Collie and bull terrier
Peter Grimm - cat
Tipperary - gray Persian cat
Tenebris - Holstein bull

Other Books by Author
Lad, A Dog
Lad Of Sunnybank
Further Adventures of Lad
My Friend The Dog
Buff, A Collie
The Critter - And Other Dogs
A Dog Named Chips
A Highland Collie
Gray Dawn
Lochinvar Luck
The Way Of A Dog
Dog Of The High Sierras
Collie To The Rescue

Other editions:
Paperback, Signet

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Red, A Trailing Bloodhound
Colonel S.P. Meek
1951, Alfred P. Knopf

Red sniffed at the ground for an instant, then sprang forward with such suddenness that Slim almost lost his footing on the grass. An instant later he was racing along after the big dog, hanging on to the leash with both hands.

When the local newspaper pressures New York's governor into creating a canine tracking unit in the state police force, Slim Courtney is the sole trooper chosen to train with the dogs. Slim quickly forms a bond with the quixotic bloodhound Red, whose talent for trailing is tempered by his aggression when he finds his target. And Courtney faces a greater challenge than proving his favorite dog can be safe tracking lost children - he must convince a skeptical boss and public that the bloodhounds will earn their keep.

A tough adventure story for adults and teens, featuring a truly horrific crime scene early on where a man has murdered three children and his own grown daughter. The dog-makes-good theme is classic, but the characters lack depth and individuality, and the dog is never seen very clearly. The information about bloodhounds and their impressive trailing ability, is dated but interesting, as are the scenes in which Red proves his worth.

There is a plot concerning a kidnapped child, Butch Clymo, whose parents are estranged because Mr. Clymo is, in the words of a household servant who clearly has issues with Mrs. Clymo:

a prince, sir, a regular, two-fisted guy with hair on his chest. He likes to hunt and fish and he likes dogs.

The wife, of course, is a hysterical, controlling, weak woman who has tied her son, sissy-like, to her apron-strongs, called him Cecil instead of Butch, and doesn't realize that what she really wants is to have Mr. Clymo take the reins.

Even given that it's a different era, the violence and pure misogyny of the book are repulsive.

Other Books by the Author
Juvenile Fiction - Dogs
Jerry: The Adventures Of An Army Dog
Gypsy Lad: The Story Of A Champion Setter
Franz: A Dog Of The Police
Dignity: A Springer Spaniel
Gustav: A Son Of Franz
Surfman: The Adventures Of A Coast Guard Dog
Hans: A Dog Of The Border Patrol
Pat: The Story Of A Seeing Eye Dog
Red: A Trailing Bloodhound
Boy: An Ozark Coonhound
Rip: A Game Protector
Omar: A State Police Dog
Rusty: A Cocker Spaniel
Ranger: A Dog Of The Forest Service
Boots: The Story Of A Working Sheep Dog
Pierre of The Big Top: The Story Of A Circus Poodle

Non-Fiction - Dogs
So You're Going To Get A Puppy

Juvenile Fiction - Horses
Frog: The Horse That Knew No Master
Midnight: A Cow Pony
Pagan: A Border Patrol Horse
Bellfarm Star: The Story Of A Pacer

Author Information Sterner St. Paul Meek (1894-1972) was a very early science-fiction who later began writing adventure stories revolving around dogs and horses in the early 1930's.