Three puppies learn empowering life lessons in this middle-grade tale.
When Mutt, a stray dog, rescues a domestic cat from a predator’s attack, the cat’s owner, Mr. Thomas, grudgingly lets the dog stay. Mutt takes her job as protector seriously and patrols the land daily. Salamon’s third-person narration rotates among Mutt’s and other animals’ points of view, an important stylistic choice when readers meet Gilbert, the Mexican boy who comes to the orchard seasonally with his family to work. In Mutt’s eyes, Gilbert is a kind boy who works hard, not the vilified migrant worker that some human Americans may label him. When Mutt has puppies, Gilbert delights in them, especially the smallest, whom he names Luna. The tale takes a dark turn when Gilbert and his family leave for Florida and Mr. Thomas gives the puppies away. Luna and her brother end up in a horrible puppy mill, where they endure squalor, hunger, and punishment. Their subsequent escape, survival by wits, and determination to each find their “promise” is subtly mirrored by Gilbert’s family’s own immigrant story. Using simple and sturdy phrases that belie the story’s sophistication, Salamon gives the journey-as-a-vehicle-to–self-discovery theme a poignancy that avoids schmaltz (no mean feat with puppies as protagonists). Weber’s primitive-style black-and-white illustrations add their own emotive power.
Emotional depth, adventure, and puppies—highly satisfying. (Adventure. 7-12)