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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Tale of Rescue, written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"Beyond exhausted, for her fifth trip across her besieged terrain, the cattle dog could at least run in the path the herd had forged. She found the three people in the middle of the corridor; they were still far from the farmhouse. And they were sitting on the ground, the small one balled up in the man's arms. She ran straight past the family, turned quickly, and barked at their backs."

One of the great things that happened while I was waiting for a recent doctor's appointment was the chance to read this, at times terrifying, new novel for middle grade readers. I paid no attention to the people around me because I was totally taken by a story that is sure to win the hearts of all readers who love tales about courageous and smart dogs. It is a story of a dog and a boy, and the circumstances that connect them.

When a family from Florida, on holiday in the Appalachian foothills, are caught in a blizzard while hiking from their cabin to a nearby lodge, they become disoriented in the blinding snow. We don't know who they are - we do know they are a mother, a father, and their 10-year-old son. As they struggle to stay warm and alive, they do not know that a cattle dog from a nearby farm has heard their whistle for help.

That dog, brave and brilliant, is able to track them. The dog's arrival is not initially welcome:

"In their shallow bunker, the family ducked their
heads and linked arms. They formed a fortress
of coats. The cattle dog's barks clapped above
them as if the skies had added thunder to its
theme of disaster. They gritted their teeth and
squeezed their parched lips together. Even the
boy's sobbing turned silent. How could they
be trapped in a snowstorm - and attacked by
some savage dog?"

It turns out that the dog is trying to keep them awake. Despite her fatigue, she is determined to get them moving toward the farm. It is not the only attempt she makes to save them. She returns home for help. When she cannot rouse the farmer to action, she herds her cows to forge a path from the farm to the family and brings them home to warmth and safety.

The story might end there, with the farmer not knowing the names of the people who spend time in his house, and the family not knowing the name of the dog who came to their rescue. It does not.  In an epilogue the boy, now graduated from high school, returns to the area to try to find the farmer and his heeler and learn the rest of their story.

The fine writing is accompanied by splendid, light-filled watercolor artwork. The language is lovely and dramatic, the pace perfect. This would be a wonderful readaloud for any middle grade classroom. I think you will really enjoy it.

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