CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 8. . . .October 21, 2011
Zoe is new at school, new to the town of Uranium Point, and new to living in the cold isolation of the Canadian north. Not only that, but Zoe has an added challenge; she was paralysed in an accident and must use a wheelchair to get around. At first, she thought living up north would be an adventure, but once she arrives, she’s not so sure. The door is too small for her to fit through to even get in the house, all the kids spend their time playing snow sports in which she can’t participate, and worst of all, Uranium Point is full of stray dogs, with dogs being Zoe’s biggest fear. Her older brother, Bailey, ignores her, and her parents are too busy to be too concerned about Zoe’s discomfort in their new hometown. But when Zoe is locked out of the house, her courage is put to the test. and she finds a friend where she least expects it.
Alison Lohans’ Dog Alert is part of the “Nitty Gritty Novel” series, published by the New Zealand-based Pearson publishing house. This slender book is the perfect length for those beginning to read chapter books, or even reluctant older readers. It is peppered with small black and white illustrations, with major breaks and illustrated pages to mark each new chapter. Dog Alert moves at a quick pace without losing characterization or plot along the way. Coming in under 90 pages, Zoe’s story is told directly; there is no stopping to muse upon the plot points that could be weighed down with “teachable moments” or life lessons. Great for new independent readers, the direct nature of the book is one of the major strengths of Dog Alert as Lohans seems to understand the need to allow readers the opportunity to form their own opinions rather than telling them what to take away from Zoe’s story. Lohans doesn’t try to tie up all plot elements either, leaving readers to imagine other challenges that may present themselves for Zoe and her family while in the far north. Even with its female protagonist, Dog Alert could be enjoyed by both boys and girls. Zoe’s adventurous spirit is the dominant descriptor of her character, and her older brother, Bailey, plays a crucial role in the story, helping male readers engage in a book about a girl.
Due to its quick pace and short length, Dog Alert would be useful in teaching kids about inclusiveness in classrooms or group situations, and Pearson publishing house has clearly considered this use also; a “Talk About It” discussion guide is provided on the back cover. The guide provides a few questions about the challenges in Zoe’s life, but also questions regarding theme, characterization, and personal response.
Stacey Matson has worked in educational and interpretive programming in cultural/historic sites across Canada. She is currently pursuing her MA in children’s literature at the University of British Columbia.
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