Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

A story about trust: The Dog Who Lost His Bark

The Dog Who Lost His Bark, by Eoin Colfer/Illustrated by PJ Lynch, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536204421

Ages 7-11

A puppy is taken from his mother, purchased as a birthday gift for a cruel boy from his equally cruel parents. Abandoned at a dump, wrapped in linoleum tile, he is rescued, and chosen by another boy – a boy named Patrick. But Oz, as Patrick names the pup, is afraid of humans. He’s never met a kind one, and he doesn’t want to be hurt again. Patrick, ever patient, sits with Oz, talks to Oz, and waits for Oz to warm up to him. But Patrick’s life is about to undergo upheaval, too: his parents are splitting up… is it because his father is allergic to dogs? Patrick swears that he will make the painful sacrifice and send Oz back to the shelter if it means having his father back home.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a sensitive, sometimes painful, ultimately soothing story about trust, betrayal, and family. Eoin Colfer creates wonderfully memorable characters, both canine and human, and PJ Lynch’s black and white illustrations give them form. Oz’s playful innocence is so harshly broken by his first family that it becomes painful; Lynch’s illustrations give us a sweet dog that just wants to be loved, but is terrified of opening himself up to that possibility ever again. It’s all there, right on the cover image. Illustrations introducing us to Patrick, the boy who adopts Oz, give us a sensitive boy who wants to reach his pup.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark reads like classic kidlit. I’ll be recommending this one along with my EB White favorites and Kate DiCamillo’s books, for sure. Beautifully written, wonderfully illustrated, and an absolute must for your reading lists next year, educators. I’m putting this one on my Newbery watch list.

The Candlewick website offers a free, downloadable discussion guide.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Eoin Colfer’s Illegal is a powerful statement on behalf of refugees

Illegal, by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin/Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, (Aug. 2018, Sourcebooks), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492662143

Recommended for readers 10+

The Artemis Fowl graphic novel team assembles to bring readers a powerful, emotional story about the struggles of undocumented immigrants: in this story, three African siblings. Ebo’s alone. Orphaned and living in squalor, his sister set out months ago to find her way to Europe and a better life, promising to send for Ebo and their brother, Kwame, when she gets settled. But the boys can’t wait any longer, and Kwame sets out next. Ebo follows Kwame, and the brothers endure a journey across the Sahara Desert to find their way to the sea. The journey is inhumane, often unbearable, but Ebo will not be denied. He deals with loss, hunger, and thirst; filthy living conditions; and brutal treatment by nature and man, but he holds out hope to be reunited with his sister, and the promise of a better life somewhere else.

There’s been quite a bit of attention focused on undocumented immigrants, and it’s a conversation we need to continue. War, disease, poverty, and hunger are global problems that force men, women, and children to undergo unthinkable scenarios for the sole purpose of cultivating a better life. Illegal, while fictional, is inspired by true events: just pick up a newspaper or turn on the news. Ebo’s story is one story of millions: the United Nations records 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Told in Ebo’s voice, readers will feel like they are reading a private journal. His voice is strong and clear, and evokes anger, grief, and the desire to do more. The artwork supports the text, laying out the slums of an African neighborhood; the devastating stretch of desert, and the terrifying expanse of the ocean. Ebo’s face will stay with readers long after they finish the book.

(Images courtesy of Entertainment Weekly‘s article)

Illegal should be on every middle school and/or high school’s Summer Reading list, and needs to be discussed in our classrooms and in our homes. The book is currently out in the UK, and there are teaching materials online, including this downloadable one from the U.S. publisher, Sourcebooks. Author Andrew Donkin has articles about Illegal on his website, and Eoin Colfer has the US and UK covers on his website. Entertainment Weekly has a featured excerpt and The Guardian made it the Children’s Book of the Week when it was published in the UK in October 2017.

Illegal was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards and was chosen for EmpathyLabUK’s Read for Empathy List (a downloadable copy of which can be found here). I’ve embedded the trailer below:


Booktalk and display Illegal with Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys’ Child Soldier and Barron’s Children in Our World books (Refugees & Migrants, Poverty & Hunger, Racism & Intolerance, and Global Conflict).