Sunday, August 30, 2020

Book Review: Because of Winn-Dixie (girl, found dog, the South, summer, new friends)

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo* (Candlewick Press, 2000, 182 pages, $5.99PB)

A new classic, a New York Times Bestseller* and so much more with a movie to boot (see the DVD review here).

Which is better – the book or the movie? I believe it depends on which one you read/see first. That is the best one.


And, of course, some movies take liberties with the plot because movies need action while books can use more character thoughts. Some movies mirror the book miraculously close (The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird), as does Because of Winn-Dixie.

A Story to Cherish

“Just about everything that happened to me that summer happened because of Winn-Dixie.” (p. 60) Opal doesn’t need a dog but the dog she finds and names Winn-Dixie needs her. She doesn’t have any friends yet in the new town, so Winn-Dixie listens. Together they make friends and turn the town around ever so slowly.

Her mother left so she asks her father, the preacher, to tell her ten things about her mother. When Winn-Dixie is scared in the storm and runs away, she makes a list of ten things about Winn-Dixie. . . .

Typically Southern

Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Winn-Dixie has the requisite Southern characters – the spinster lady librarian, a small girl named Sweetie Pie, the old lady who lives alone and is called a witch, the bullies in the neighborhood and the stuck-up little rich girl, the misunderstood pet store keeper, the old candy factory, Gone with the Wind, Gertrude the parrot, a drowning, a party with egg salad sandwiches and pickles.

And the requisite Southern plot of growing up.

DiCamillo’s story and style are magical for kids (and for the family). No wonder her books have garnered so many awards.
Also a Book Sense Best Book of the Year,
a New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing Selection,
a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year,
a Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Winners,
a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and
a Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

*Who is Kate DiCamillo?

“Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.” (

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Book Review: The Puppy Primer (training curriculum for the trainer and the new puppy family)

The Puppy Primer (second edition), by Patricia McConnell and Brenda Scidmore (McConnell Publishing, 2010, 117 pages, $16.95PB)

At first reading, a simple book, but don’t let that fool you. The Puppy Primer is a new classic and one that should be in your training toolbox if it isn’t already!

With six chapters, the authors have provided both puppy people and puppy trainers with a week-by-week bible of training and behavior, a recipe for turning a puppy into a wonderful best friend for life. Perfect for those experienced trainers who may not have taught puppies for a while (or ever), The Puppy Primer provides a 6-week curriculum with enough explanation for the students to read before class (if they wish) and to review during the following week to solidify the exercises (games), explanations, and words of wisdom provided.

Each chapter begins with a sort-of lecture topic starting with the all-important socialization, positive reinforcement and housetraining. After that, we get down to the basics of training but nearly every skill taught is covered bit by bit over more than one week, so both dog and person can practice and succeed in small increments.

Each week covers new exercises plus sections titled Practice Makes Perfect which build on previous exercises and make them just a wee bit harder, yet still do-able for both human and canine.

Oh, and the chapters end with a bulleted summary that is oh, so helpful. Sort of like ‘the least you need to remember.’

Writing Style

McConnell and Scidmore have an unusually lovely and human writing style for a how-to book: essentially more story-style than dry academic recipes and with a sense of humor that is priceless! You will keep reading just to find more conversational gems. Plus the Recommended Reading List at the back is the most complete list I have seen in two pages – and I agree with the authors’ recommendations!
Caveat: This book was purchased by DogEvals for training and to review.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book Review (OT): Hitler Youth (true stories of the youth movement)

Hitler* Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic Press, 2005, 369 pages, $9.99PB) Ages 12 and up, grades 7-9.

The Question

Why did the youth of Germany revere Hitler so, even join the Hitler Youth – some without their parents’ permission?

It was the 1930s in Europe. Germany had lost the Great War (World War 1) and was forced to sign a treaty limiting them unfairly (in their minds). The leader of Germany was elderly and a young whippersnapper from Austria was a magnetic speaker and leader – perhaps even brilliant in his planning, as he and his party won elections and gradually took over.

Hitler believed in the young people of the day and created not only a new military but also a youth-oriented movement, led by the elite (blond, blue-eyed Aryan) youth themselves and full of camping and bonfires and songs and athletics and uniforms – and later, marching and weapons practice.

The Book

Author Susan Bartoletti spent two years and many days in Europe researching this book – a collection of true stories leading from the very beginnings of the Nazi youth movement to the war’s end in 1945. The reader meets the famous Sophie Scholl and her siblings, a young Jewish boy who was not allowed to join his classmates in the fun of the Hitler Youth, a German teen who joined despite his parents’ protestations. From Hitler’s rise to power to preparations for war and book burnings to the Holocaust and even the Resistance, the reader follows history through the eyes of real boys and girls who lived it and through the photographs.

The author includes a timeline and epilogue following the leading characters up to present day. I only wish her writing style were more enthralling: nevertheless, the facts pull the reader in and the ten chapters can be read in any order, if you like to skip around.
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Newbery Honor Book
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
Booklist Editors' Choice
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
Winner 2005 Parents' Choice Gold Seal Award

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Book Review: Dogversations (What dogs say behind the scenes about their photos)

Dogversations: Conversations with My Dogs, by David Leswick (Friesen Press, 2020, 144 pages, $21.99) (available on Amazon and through the author at

What in Tarnation are “Dogversations” Anyway?

According to a future dictionary somewhere (and also according to author David Leswick on the Dogversations webpage), “dogversations” are:

     “The informal exchange of ideas by spoken word, either between a human and a dog, [or between a dog and a human,] or amongst two or more dogs (especially conversations that are lengthy, off topic, and fraught with good-natured misunderstandings and humour).”

Dogversations may remind you of Groucho Marx or Gracie Allen or Rowen and Martin or The Smothers Brothers. . . .Dogversations also go by the term, dogalogues (dog dialogues).

Dogversations is a collection of 68 delightfully perfect, finely-crafted family photos and the ensuing conversations that might have taken place as life was snapped to be saved in time and space.

Canine Conversations: The Stories Behind the Photos

Dog Stars Mr. Fluffernutter, NewPuppy's nose, Freckles (or Bruno, Aggie, Eva)

We all talk to our dogs but do you carry on a two-sided conversation with yours, perhaps on a walk where nobody can hear? Do you tell him the schedule for the day? When she comes to you with those big puppy-dog eyes, do you hate having to tell her that dinner is still an hour away? Do you and your dog chat as you are putting his paws in place for the perfect photo shoot – only to find he has moved them the instant before you clicked the camera?

If any of these are daily occurrences for you, then you are that person who wonders what your best friend would say if he started the conversation.

With Dogversations, you know! And for a sneak peak, check out the Youtube preview video here.

Some of the photos spark the imagination while others are obvious as to what the dogs are saying in Doglish, now translated for the reader.

And now you know - the rest of the story.

New Pup in the Family

Dogversations is a compilation of conversations between Dave, the human dad, and Eva, Bruno, and Agnes of the canine kind. The book opens with number one pup, Eva, a Brittany spaniel. She “ . . . is a brainy Brittany spaniel who has a talent for puppy dog eyes,

Puppy Eva's Puppy Dog Eyes
"Dave, why is this cardboard keeping me in the kitchen?"

laundry hamper fashion critique,

"Dave, love this soft laundry hamper but little Julia's cat pajamas have got to go!"

and garden-ornament bird watching."

But, dogs are like potato chips: you can’t have just one.

Enter, Bruno: A Second ‘New Pup in the Family’

When Eva grows up, the family acquires Golden Retriever pup Bruno. Eva decides to keep him as a toy because finally she has someone smaller than she is to play with (only later does she find out how quickly [and big!] Goldens grow!) 

Eva: I have so much bossing around planned for this puppy! Life is good!

Every dog training center should have a poster of Jailbreak (below): Bruno climbing out of his X-pen in the bedroom. It’s a good thing Bruno is so cute! 

Bruno: Dave, can't talk now. Busy escaping!
     DAVE: Where are you going, Bruno?
     BRUNO: Jail break! No walls can confine me!
     DAVE: You're going to be an escape artist?
     BRUNO: Sometimes escape is the only option. Being locked in this cage is simply intolerable. It's like a horror show in here.
     DAVE: I thought it was an open exercise pen with carpeted floor, a soft towel, and a good view of the lake.
     BRUNO: Truly a substandard situation, Dave.
     DAVE: I think you may be setting your standards a little high. You're a new puppy who has yet to learn to pee outside and likes to chew electrical cords. Kennel training is apparently a good thing to help you learn the house rules. 
     BRUNO: Can't talk. Busy escaping.
     DAVE: And what is the plan when you do escape?
     BRUNO: Can't plan. Busy escaping.
     DAVE: And how does this fit in with the house rules of waiting patiently to be let out of your exercise pen?
     BRUNO: Rules, shmules. I view the rules more like loose guidelines. Sounds like we're done here. Now if you'll stop your chit-chat and excuse me, I have some escaping to do.

Bruno grows into “ . . .a classically handsome golden retriever whose hobbies include dock jumping [sic], hammocks,

Hammocking with Daniel and Julia: Who is who?

and being spectacular.” He is an eternal lap dog but “. . .intelligence seems to evade him at times: he often looks confused and toward the left while everyone else is excited about a bird or squirrel on the right.”

Then Along Comes Agnes

When Bruno is all grown up, along comes Agnes, “the genetically diverse rescue dog,” “a sweet good-natured rescue puppy. . .unless you are a squirrel.”

Puppy Agnes with Every Dog's Dilemma

One Spouse, Two Kids, Three Canines. Oh, and a Photographer/Writer Dad

And finally, after eight years of photographs and human-to-canine or canine-to-human conversations, the family is complete and ready to share their canine shenanigans with the world. The result is a book to keep, for kids and adults alike. You will display it on the coffee table and refer to it often.

But mostly, you will look at your own dog differently with new eyes (possibly canine eyes?) and start to write your own family’s dog book – a photo on one page with the ensuing conversation on the facing page. Even the kids can take part in selecting the photos and writing the ‘dogversations.’
Family Portrait
Who’s Your Favorite Dog Star?

With nearly a hundred photo-conversations to choose from, I just can’t pick my favorite – I have nearly a hundred favorites! And as for dogs, I am biased in favor of Golden Retrievers (since the author does not have a Lab), so Bruno is my fave - that is, next to little Agnes and number one Eva.
Caveat: This book was sent to DogEvals for review.
*reprinted with permission of the author
(photos courtesy of DLeswick)