CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.
Julia Gillian (and the Dream of the Dog).
Alison McGhee. Illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2010.
327 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Myra Junyk.
The students were silent. Sixlet was indeed the term for sixth-graders, just as Sevvie and Crazy Eights referred to the seventh- and eighth-graders, but teachers weren’t supposed to know those nicknames.
“Let me introduce you to a concept that will help you navigate the sometimes tricky waters of sixth grade,” said Mr. Lamonte. “In order to accomplish a task, keep focused on the task itself. Rule out all the factors that might adversely affect the outcome. We call this process controlling for variables.”
It is September again, and Julia Gillian and her friends are now in grade six at Lake Harriet Elementary School. Things are changing much too fast! Bigfoot, Julia’s dream dog, is starting to slow down. And now, instead of being the oldest elementary students, Julia and her friends are now the youngest middle schoolers. Not only are they expected to take responsibility for themselves, the “sixlets” are now reading buddies for grade three students. And wouldn’t you know it, Julia gets stuck with Fergus Cannon who hates to read – just like Julia! “Reading didn’t have enough action for her.”
Julia struggles with her new challenges by trying to control the variables in her life. She practices free throws. She avoids confrontations with the scary grade eight students, especially beautiful and perfect Ms. Caravaggio. She finally discovers that her reading buddy likes dogs – just like her! Hopefully, they can come up with a project based on their shared interest. When Julia’s dog, Bigfoot, is taken to the veterinarian with heart disease, she tries to keep him quiet and control all the variables of his life. Despite Julia’s best efforts, Bigfoot’s heart gives out, and he dies. Although Julia is devastated, she discovers that, with the help of her family and friends, she can keep Bigfoot’s memory alive – even though she will miss him forever!
In this third novel in the series, Alison McGhee has once again captured the irrepressible enthusiasm of Julia Gillian. In the first novel, Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing), readers came to know the precocious nine-year old. During her summer adventures, she learned that reading could be fun and that she could make a difference in the world through her actions. In the second novel, Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy), Julia experienced a new sense of insecurity about her life but learned powerful lessons about friendship and compassion for others. This third novel explores the more complex world of Julia Gillian and her friends in the sixth grade. They are growing up, and they must start to face some of the harsher realities of life.
In this novel, Julia must face the death of her beloved pet, Bigfoot. In her desire to somehow “control the variables” of Bigfoot’s life, Julia deprives her dog of his beloved walks through the neighbourhood. Julia desperately wants Bigfoot to live forever. However, when they take a walk for the last time, his enthusiasm and joy convince her that it was the right thing to do. Her grief, though, is very real. “Everything was too hard. Everything was too hard. Everything was – too hard.”
The readers of the Julia Gillian series are definitely growing up. This is the longest book in the series at 327 pages. Although readers will once again see the Drazen Kozjan’s familiar pencil drawings, the drawings have become more of a commentary on the action instead of simply illustrating the storyline and providing details. The death of Julia Gillian’s dog, Bigfoot, and the move to grade six provide a more challenging storyline. In this novel, readers will learn a great deal about life by exploring ideas such as grief, responsibility, prejudice and mortality. Alison McGhee’s Julia Gillian (and the Dream of the Dog) is the best Julia Gillian book so far!
Myra Junyk, who is a literacy advocate and author, lives in Toronto, ON.
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