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.