CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 21. . . .February 4, 2011.
Black Dog Dream Dog.
Michelle Superle. Illustrated by Millie Ballance.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2010.
141 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Crystal Sutherland.
Sam Hudson is 11-years-old, but her mother just wonít stop treating her like a baby. Her mom doesnít want her to have any fun; she just doesnít understand that what she thinks is good for Sam and what Sam thinks is good for Sam are completely different, and Samís mom is obviously the one whoís wrong. No matter how hard Sam tries, her mom just wonít listen, and her dad is always travelling and, when he is home, he always takes her momís side! If only Samís parents were as cool as those of her best friend Jazzy. Jazzy can do whatever she wants, have whatever she wants, and her parents actually listen to her when she talks! They are the exact opposite of, and so much cooler than, Samís.
Samís stomach flipped. She could do this. But Mom could never find out. She would be in huge trouble if she got caught. And what if somebody was missing him? It was really bad to sneak around behind your parentsí backs. But still...the dog was so...right.
Sam is frustrated and has run out of ideas for getting her parents, especially her mother, to listen to what she wants and to stop telling Sam what she needs. Just as Samís about to give in and accept that her words mean nothing, a pair of very receptive ears suddenly enter her life: the large black dog frightens Sam at first, but she quickly realizes heís frightened as well and, like her, desperately needs a friend who understands. Sam knows her mother will send the dog to the pound if she sees him, but Sam also senses the dog is lost and desperately needs help. She doesnít know how sheís going to do it, but Sam knows she has to help this strange dog and canít let her mother find out!
On the other side of town, Stella is regaining consciousness after having suffered a very bad stroke. She can hear the people around her, and she understands what they are saying, but she finds herself unable to speak and move. No matter how hard she tries, she canít find a way to ask about how her big, black dog, Little Bear, is doing or if anyone even knows he exists.
Horatio, Samís new dog that her mother would be totally against were she to find out about him, seems very comfortable in his new home. Sam transforms her familyís shed into a comfortable home for Horatio, who, in return for food and shelter, is a kind and receptive ear for all of Samís problems, most of which involve her mother who has discovered a great, new activity for Sam Ė taking their tiny dog Piglet with them to visits a seniorsí home. Sam finds seniors a little scary and doesnít think Piglet has what it takes to be a therapy dog: Piglet isnít big enough for seniors to pet without putting him in their lap, plus heís too energetic and too yappy. Sam knows a dog that would be perfect, one that is big, patient, quiet, and an excellent listener. Sam tries, but she canít find a way to share her idea with her mother without losing her four-legged friend to the pound.
While Sam struggles to find a way to introduce Horatio to Mrs. Goodard, Birtchwood Seniorís Homeís coordinator, Stella spends every day working to regain movement and, most importantly, her ability to speak. Not knowing what has happened to Little Bear is driving her mad and motivating her to perform her rehabilitation exercises day and night. Mrs. Goodard is impressed and shocked by Stellaís progress but is still unable to make out what Stella is trying to say. If Sam can figure out a way to get Horatio/Little Bear to Birtchwood, the two old friends will be reunited, but does Sam really want to give up her confidant? The dog is becoming more and more depressed every day, but Sam knows that, without her secret friend, her life will be miserable, and when her plan to get Horatio/Little Bear to Birchwood falls through, fate must be telling her he must stay with her, right? Suddenly, none of that matters when Samís mom accidentally finds the dog. This time, Sam is not going to give up! By the end of the novel, Sam and Stella have both found their voices, one for the first time, the other all over again.
At an age where independence is so appealing and sometimes so difficult to achieve, readers will empathise with Sam and understand how annoying it can be when parents just donít get, or donít want to hear about, what you really want and clearly donít want. Samís mother struggles with the fact her daughter is pushing her away, and what Sam interprets as her motherís treating her like a child is really her motherís struggling with the idea of her little girl making decisions, good or bad, on her own.
While Sam is frustrated by being Ďtreated like a babyí, which she was not that long ago, Stella must deal with being completely dependent on another human being all over again. The two stories complement each other and demonstrate how important it is, at any age, to be heard and have your ideas and needs acknowledged.
Chapters alternate between the lives of Sam and Stella. As the book progresses, two stories that could not be more different, a child trying to gain the respect she believes all adults are given and a senior grappling with having many of the privileges Sam longs for suddenly taken away from her, prove to be not that different after all. Pieces slowly come together, and it becomes evident that these very different individuals share one very important thing: the love of a dog which they both feel chose them for a reason. The reader will feel the frustration Stella and Sam experience, and joy when the big black dog known by different names, but loved equally, helps them become the people they want to be. Black Dog Dream Dog is a fantastic, feel-good read involving a contemporary Littlest Hobo who would never leaves those who love him and whom he loves in return.
Crystal Sutherland holds Masters Degrees in Literacy Education and Library Science and lives in Halifax, NS.
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