Sally Hill Mills teaches creative writing to elementary school children. A former classroom and special education teacher, she knows kids and knows what they like to read.
“A children’s book needs a positive tone, especially when it deals with loneliness, being different, the challenge of an illness, and dealing with bullies,” says Mills. "I not only wanted kids to understand how runty, three-legged Jimmy feels as he’s faced with some of life’s hardest challenges, I wanted them to laugh. I wanted them to experience, along with Jimmy, the joy of running for the first time. And the relief that comes when someone understands your fears and accepts you despite your flaws."
Mills has read “Jimmy: Toughest. Dog. Ever.” to elementary school classrooms and says she’s yet to meet a kid who didn’t fall in love with Jimmy. “Everybody identifies with Jimmy, so his story naturally leads to an understanding about what it feels like to be different,” she says. Mills also uses the book to launch kids into writing their own stories: about their pets, their pesky siblings, about their challenges, and about their heroes. “When I tell them I wrote this story about my own dog, they realize they have stories from their lives they could tell."
“A great classroom book full of lessons about language and life.”
– Kirkus Reviews
In this illustrated sequel, a little dog struggles with the death of his best friend and the arrival of a new pooch in the house.
Jimmy, a small dog with three good legs and an eye lost to a snake bite, adores Arrow, his shaggy, tough housemate. As established in Mills’ previous children’s book, Jimmy: Toughest. Dog. Ever. (2015), the canines have bonded with each other and their human caretakers, Lola and Stan. In this touching sequel targeting a wider range of readers (its graceful treatment of love and loss will resonate with many adults, too), Arrow dies. Grieving Jimmy (whose speech is distinguished by italicized text) tries to understand when Stan comforts him: “Nothing ever dies. Nothing ever really dies. Everything’s always changing.” Never glib, Jimmy’s journey toward acceptance is subtly underscored by the changing seasons. When autumn brings Gus, a gentle rescue dog, to the family, Jimmy is resentful at first. He tells the big, friendly newcomer: “This is my house. These are my people. You don’t belong here. You’re doing everything wrong. Arrow would never lie down by the pond while birds and squirrels ran through the yard.” But Jimmy soon learns from Lola that “a heart can stretch….It can hold more and more and more. A heart can hold more than you would ever think.” The soft quality of debut illustrator Gauthier’s beautifully executed images, positioned at the tops and bottoms of pages throughout, deepen readers’ connection to the heartwarming narrative. (The website toughestdogever.com includes a useful discussion guide for kids.)
A lovely, resonant, child-appropriate tale about loss and the cycle of grief and healing.
Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2020
Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020
Every dog wants to be tough—big, strong, fearless—but in this illustrated debut picture book, Jimmy finds toughness on the inside.
Jimmy is a shelter dog. Not only has he never known the love of a family, but he has also never known what it is to run and play. He was born with only three legs, so the people at the shelter have always regarded him as “special” and kept him apart from the other dogs for his own safety. When at last he is adopted, the man at the shelter bids him goodbye with a gentle warning—“Remember: don’t run or jump, and please don’t play. You could get hurt.” Love is immediate between Jimmy and his new owners, Stan and Lola, but it is slower to develop with Arrow, the other dog in the house, who doubts Jimmy’s ability to protect the yard from birds and squirrels. But Jimmy finds his footing, both literally and figuratively, and is soon racing around the park with Arrow, making new friends and growing strong and surprisingly fast. Still, it turns out that there was some truth to the shelter man’s premonition that Jimmy, left to his own devices, might get himself hurt, even though it doesn’t happen in quite the way anyone might have imagined. Jimmy’s physical and mental toughness in the face of disaster impresses everyone but surprises no one, earning him the family moniker of “Toughest. Dog. Ever.” Mills based the book, her first, on the story of her own special dog, Djembe, and used her classroom experience to craft a rich reading experience for elementary school children. She uses action and dialogue to develop her characters—spunky but anxious Jimmy, gruff Arrow, fatherly Stan—and effective sensory language to evoke the dog’s life: “Warm air and the smell of Lola, Stan, and Arrow washed over him.” There are big ideas here, too, including what it means to be special and what it means to be tough and how there are good and bad things about both. The serviceable, coloring-book–style line drawings by Shorter support the text well and will appeal to the book’s target audience.
A great classroom book full of lessons about language and life.
Pub Date: March 28, 2015
Page count: 48pp
Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015
The unlikely hero
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