Read more 2016 Caudill reviews.

Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle

Tony goes to live with an uncle he’s never met when his mother is arrested for having a pit bull fighting ring. His uncle lives in a remote area on the Pacific Crest Trail and Tony slowly and unsteadily adjusts to a life where he doesn’t have to worry about city dangers, but there are wildlife dangers. His uncle trains rescue dogs and leads search and rescue missions. Gabe, Tio’s rescue dog, befriends and tries to heal Tony with his dog ways. The chapters alternate from Tony and Gabe’s point of view. The writing is a little juvenile (however, I guess that’s appropriate), putting it towards the 4th grade end of the Caudill spectrum, but the perspective of the dog is fun and interesting to think about. How do dogs interpret things? Do they have insight humans don’t? Where do their skills fall short? Can dogs heal people? Can they find people that are lost figuratively and literally? The young writing also helps even the playing field with several tough topics: child neglect, animal abuse, gambling, dog fighting, anger, abandonment. We see realistically that it takes Tony a long time to heal and there are a lot of setbacks. He is afraid to do math because he used to be forced to be in charge of bets where the losing dogs got abused. He is afraid to love and trust Tio because he fears his situation is temporary. He doesn’t want to get to know the kids at school because they might bully him or if he likes them he’ll have to leave. The wilderness is another big thing to be afraid of in a world where he is scared most of the time. So the personal development of Tony is what I found the most interesting. Other than that, it is somewhat uneventful and the prose is simple but not in a beautiful way. I guess I could definitely see a 12-year-old character writing like that, so it’s more realistic. But I definitely would go for Sharon Creech simple prose over this. But who doesn’t love a heartwarming dog story about a boy who gets rescued from his unstable life? This is a gentle way to introduce young readers to hard concepts to talk about.

For more rescue dogs, try: White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan, Mad Dog by Dandi Daley Mackall, Rock Harbor Search and Rescue by Colleen Coble,

For more children of prisoners, try: Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Saving Sam by Susan Brocker, Sunny Holiday by Coleen Paratore, Bill Rules by Elizabeth Fensham, Chasing the Falconers by Gordan Korman, and The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas.