Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: Angus and Sadie (again but different)(Border Collies, Maine farm, children)

Angus and Sadie, by Cynthia Voigt, Newbery medalist (Harper Collins, 2005, 194 pages, ages 8-12, paperback – 2008)

Written by Newbery medalist Cynthia Voigt, Angus and Sadie is a wonderfully fun, heart-warming story for both adults and children, so, here are different book reviews for each. Children first, yesterday, and now, the review for adults.

Easy Read for Adults, but Substantial

Every so often, I suggest to adults who don’t read much, that they might consider wandering into the children’s book section of their library or bookstore, and come out with a few easy-reading books (for their children, of course, or their nieces and nephews, or grandkids [but really for themselves]). It is so much fun to get back into the habit of reading and exploring new worlds and new people and new ideas, if you start out easy. Even picture books will do.

Angus and Sadie are two Border Collie mixes from the same litter that Mister and Missus adopted from their Maine animal shelter. Though I had visions of Mister and Missus being grandparents for most of the book, the addition of a new family member at the tail end of the story told me they are young, as did the huge amount of farm work they both accomplished.

Angus quickly becomes the right-hand ‘man’ of Mister, while laid-back Sadie mostly keeps Missus company and helps in the house and garden.

The dogs actually ‘talk’ in their book, though it took me a while to realize that their words/thoughts are the ones in italics. It was easy to figure out whose words are Angus’ and which words are Sadie’s because the two characters are so well developed: Angus is like a big brother who is always right (even when he is wrong) while Sadie lets most things just roll off her back.

I love how the chapters tell you just what will happen but leave you wanting to know how. For example, one chapter is “How Missus, Angus, and Sadie harvest blueberries, while Mister harvests hay and Fox harvests a rat.” (Fox is a cat.)

Angus is a tough-skinned canine and is trained with an old-fashioned choke chain (even though the book came out in 2005), but Sadie just doesn’t understand why Mister is hurting her in the name of training so she stops trying to learn and even runs out of sight. Eventually Missus tries pushing down on her rump to get a “sit” and that works. I sincerely hope that if Angus and Sadie is rewritten, that the training methods will be shaping, capturing, luring or targeting with treats instead of the old-fashioned force-based methods.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Review: Angus and Sadie (border collies, Maine farm, children)

Angus and Sadie, by Cynthia Voigt, Newbery medalist (Harper Collins, 2005, 194 pages, ages 8-12, paperback – 2008)

Written by Newberry medalist Cynthia Voigt, Angus and Sadie is a wonderfully fun, heart-warming story for both adults and children, so, here are different book reviews for each. Children first, then, tomorrow, the review for adult readers.

Children Will Love Angus - or Sadie – or Both

Angus and Sadie are border collie pups in Maine who live on a farm and sleep in the barn next to the cows’ stall. Angus helps Mister out on the farm while Sadie, more laid-back and less ambitious, competitive and energetic, helps Missus in the garden and house. (Perhap you can imagine your brother or sister in this book as Angus? Or Sadie?)

Like a big brother, even though the two are littermates, Angus loves to compete and learn. He is always the best (or thinks he is) and tries to teach Sadie everything he knows. Sadie, however, is happier just being Sadie, even though she can rise to the challenge of a lost sheep or standing up, finally, to the cats in the barn who love to scare her.

You will learn how these two dogs think: their thoughts appear in italics and it is easy to tell Sadie’s words from Angus’ words because, as very different personalities, they view the world differently and say different things. For example, Sadie gets side-tracked by the fragrant smells drifting her way during a spring training lesson while Angus barks at her to pay attention so she will learn and be a good, good pup.

Both dogs shine: e.g., both dogs find lost sheep at different times by using their own unique style. And both dogs grow up in their first year on the farm but have more learning and growing to do when the new family member arrives.

It might seem to be a long book at first for some young readers, but reading one chapter at a time is like reading one short story at a time – one a day, perhaps. You will love guessing what comes next: the chapter titles help but won’t spoil the surprise.  For example, “How Angus feels when Sadie is the hero.” Laid-back Sadie a hero? And “How everybody knows something but nobody knows everything, and it’s not a race” is the final chapter and children will realize that this sums up all the other chapters just fine and dandy.

Any Newbery award-winning author writes good books and Angus and Sadie is no exception. One paragraph early in chapter seven is simply the best I have ever seen and fits Angus and Sadie to a T! Check it out.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: Ricochet (dogs, autism/PTSD, surfing, kids with special needs)

Ricochet: Riding a Wave of Hope with the Dog who Inspires Millions, by Judy Fridono (author) and Kay Pfaltz (writer) (Health Communications, 2014, 274 pages, $18.95)

Who doesn’t Know and Love Ricochet, That California Canine Surfin’ Dude?

Who hasn’t seen Ricochet, the golden retriever, surfing with special needs kids to raise funds ($380,000 to date) for therapy and for service dogs? Ricochet is also a friend of wounded warriors, kids who are bullied, and Oprah.

Who hasn’t watched the YouTube videos again and again, perhaps with tears in your eyes at the profound calming effect Ricochet creates, as if she somehow knows just who needs her, approaches that person gently (perhaps to surf with him or her), and absorbs their anxieties?

Pink is Her Color but She is More than a Live ”Barbie Dog”

Ricochet is a dark red, golden retriever who wears a pink wetsuit-life preserver and often surfs on a pink surfboard (she is a girl dog, after all), but she is so much more than just a live “Barbie dog.” She has an uncanny canine ability to sense the one who needs her and to bring that person into the here and now, even to take on his or her pain, if only for a little while, but the good memories remain, as well as new confidence and hope for the future.

The Rest of the Story

Yes, we know that Ricochet is a surfin’ dog but how did she become such a gentle athlete?

Ricochet was born into a new, small service dog organization and received early training, including balance exercises and boogie board games which serve her well on a surfboard as she adjusts her position with the waves to balance her precious human cargo.

Ricochet started out life as a puppy service-dog-in-training, smart at a whip, sometimes learning a skill after only one trial. Yet, suddenly she lost interest. Was becoming a service dog not her dream job after all, not what she was meant to be? Perhaps she was meant to help millions of people, not just one person as a service dog.

Judy Fridono, Rico’s trainer, became more and more frustrated until one day at the beach, Rico showed her stuff (Rico was not the first surfing dog: competitions exist by the dozens, many of them soon to be won by this gentle golden.) and Judy finally listened to her dog.

Then came the brilliant idea to have Rico surf on a board next to young Patrick on his board. After one trial, the dog jumped onto Patrick’s board and a new ‘sport’ was founded – tandem adaptive surfing with Ricochet still being the sole SURFice dog.

Ricochet is now well-known, just like the two wonderful service-dog-in-training-drop-outs of author Dean Koontz, who has been owned by two wonderful service-dog-in-training drop-out authors, Trixie and Anna, also golden retrievers.

But Sometimes Less is More

Again, it’s another book that is so much about the author and Fridono does anthropomorphize Rico a bit much. The book is long and round-about: the author opens with a tragic accident, then spends a long chapter on her own childhood. Both these chapters finally come together but it takes perhaps too long for this reviewer.

In addition, references to coincidences and the same anecdotes abound and are referred to over and over. Ricochet, the book, would be more effective as a shorter version about a spiritual lesson for living.

The author has her own service dog, Rina, who has a lovely story herself, but, for another book. Ricochet takes too long to get to Ricochet and then leaves Rina in her wake.

Ricochet is available in your local neighborhood bookstore and will hopefully soon be followed by a children’s book.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: A Dog Called Perth (beagle, England)

A Dog Called Perth: The True Story of a Beagle, by Peter Martin (Arcade, 2001, 206 pages, $21.95)
An Understated Story with an Understated Title

The year was 1965. You just know something tragic is going to happen but the suspense lies in the how plus exactly what it will be. Will it be in New York, Vermont, England? You sense the tragedy and almost put the book down but you have nothing better to do and it is a small book and you wonder why a book nearly 15 years old is still in the bookstore and library. So you read on and it only gets better.

The year was 1965 and dogs were different back then. Many, including Perth, had the run of the land and were not on a leash very much if at all. Rather like some cats today, Perth would take off right after breakfast, come back if she needed a drink of water, and then you might not see her again until suppertime.

Unfortunately, Perth’s family moved from idyllic upstate New York to a faculty position in an Ohio university. But not for long. They next landed in Florida which was better for dogs than Ohio but with not as much freedom as New York afforded.

How on earth does one train a dog to never cross the road anyway? Or did Perth train herself?

Devoted to You

She was so devoted to her family that she became almost aggressive to nearly all outsiders, to the point of biting them. So, when the family took a sabbatical to England for the summer, they searched and searched for the right spot for Perth, finally finding a girls’ camp in Vermont. But not for long. She did not suffer fools gladly.

What happened next is actually the climax of Perth’s story but is only the middle of the book. It makes me want a Beagle with loving brown eyes.

Quarantine, devotion (both directions), chains, heartbreak, running into a St. Bernard – literally! Perth lived it all and loved to bark about it (or howl).


Perth was unique. Author Peter Martin says it best: “…a life of courage, stamina, adventure, freedom, and survival. . .She had not been everyone’s favorite. But she was a genius among dogs.”

Perth “often flirted with danger, almost as if she were testing her own invincibility.”

Style: yes, part of this book takes place in England but, fortunately, had very few British words I didn’t know (not sure what a heath is, or a moor, or the downs, though). And if you were an English major, the references woven into the story from the bards of British literature will delight you. Though it is a dog book, we don’t quite get to know Perth but we do understand the devotion of Perth’s family.

A Dog Called Perth would make a wonderful family movie, complete with suspense, adventure, and blood-pressure-raising ups and downs.

You can find A Dog Called Perth in book superstores or at your public library.

Story – I give it an A
Style – I give it a B, surprisingly since it was written by an English professor

Note: You may come across two copies of this book - with different publishers, different front covers, etc. This sometimes happens with books. Both books are essentially the same.