Monday, April 20, 2009

Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog

Title: Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog
Author: John Muir, as retold by Donnell Rubay
Illustrator: Christopher Canyon
Publisher: Dawn Publications
Genre: Nonfiction
Ages: 4 to 12
Rating: 5 paws out of 5
Available at:,, and the publisher

Synopsis: In this true tale, John Muir both gives and receives the miracle of friendship from Stickeen, a small camp dog big in the lessons of life. John Muir, a man of rare character was known to have often told this tale of a dangerous trip exploring Taylor glacier in Alaska with Stickeen. Donnell Rubay edited the actual words of John Muir and has kept the spirit and rhythm of his 19th century dialogue intact. This story begs to be read aloud with character. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Stickeen's lessons, like any really good story are on many levels. This country owes so much to the foresight and extraordinary influence of John Muir. Stickeen is beautifully illustrated by the award winning Christopher Canyon. Canyon captured the body stances of little Stickeen quite well.

The Trainer's View: This is a true story of the bonding experience of both dog and man. In the beginning, Stickeen is aloof and independent, bonded to no one human in the camp. While sharing a treacherous journey over the day, the little dog accepts John Muir as leader. Muir sees Stickeen's emotions and realizes the responsibility of a caregiver. The famed naturalist may not have needed a lesson in the connectedness with nature that dogs bring us, but it appears his heart was deeply touched by Stickeen. As he wrote, “I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.” Is this not the best we can strive to be?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

97 Ways to Make a Dog Smile

Title: 97 Ways to Make a Dog Smile
Author: Jenny Langbehn
Photos: Pat Doyle
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Genre: Nonfiction
Ages: 10 and up
Rating: 4 paws out of 5
Available at:,

Review: This is a fun little book that would be good gift for developing readers who may lack reading stamina and prefer books in pieces. After a brief introduction, each page has a suggestion for a novel way to make a dog smile. Our dogs particularly like the "Which Hand Game" in which they get to guess which hand is holding a treat. They always win. The photos by Pat Doyle have perfectly caught a variety of dogs in happy and contented expressions. The print is large and makes good use of white space.

The Trainer's View: Yes, dogs smile. Ok, call it a happy face, if you will. While Ms. Langbehn states some of the 97 suggestions would not work for all dogs, some might not work for all owners. The author is also a veterinary technician and obviously knows her subject. This book is essentially a listing of environmental enrichment activities. Anything that relieves the boredom that so many dogs live with everyday and increases the positive interaction of dogs and their owners is a good thing, indeed. This is not just for children, but all dog owners.

Sable, by Karen Hesse

Title: Sable
Author: Karen Hesse
Illustrator: Marcia Sewell
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Chapter Book
Ages: 7-10
Rating: 5 paws

Synopsis: A scrawny dog wanders into the Marshall’s yard and into the heart of young Tate who has wanted always wanted a dog, but Mam is terrified of them. Tate struggles to be responsible and creatively manage the issues of her new friend. When the dog proves to have some common behavior problems, the parents find Sable a home far away. While Sable has obviously been starved and neglected in her life, no animals are irretrievably harmed in this book. It has a happy ending.

This is a rather predictable plot, but reads fresh in the capable words of the award winning Ms. Hesse. Her imagery is visual and vibrant as in this quote, “Sable smelled like dried leaves and dust and pine trees.”

The Trainer Reads: The dog acts very much as a strays do under the circumstances. She even mentions how at first Sable won't look her in the eyes. The mother is torn with the dilemma of a parent who was mauled as a child, but whose daughter needs to express her love for this silent innocent. It is heartwarming to read such a delightful account of the human animal bond. There is nothing like a kid well matched with a dog.