Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hound Dog True

Original Cover
Hound Dog True is a middle grade novel from Linda Urban.  I picked up the book several times without reading it, mostly because I had no idea what it was about and the cover gave nothing away.  I am not a huge fan of novels about dogs, (because, you know, the dog always … dies.) and I feared this was going to one of those kind of books.  Finally I got on a reading roll, reading everything in sight one weekend.  I picked up Hound Dog True and felt a little awkward.  Let me be clear, the book’s characters are so awkward (wonderfully so, I might add) that I couldn’t help but feel awkward too.  I felt so bad for little Mattie who was bullied and subverted into near silence at her previous schools.  My heart was just aching.  There was goofy Uncle Potluck, mysterious Quincy who lives next door, and little lost Moe, a forgotten button who is a reminder of worries and woes.  When worries come to a boiling point, Mattie is surrounded by this supporting cast of characters who have their own troubles but form a little family. 

Readers will enjoy the candid story, but will also learn from the book.  Targeted to tweens, but suitable for older students too, this book offers an emotional look at adolescence.  Author Linda Urban doesn’t shy away from a look at a bully and the lasting effects either.  I noted how Mattie had an encounter with bully ‘Star’ in the classroom’s coat closet.  This brief encounter for Mattie has left a huge scar on her confidence.  At first glance, Star was only repeating a very little something from Mattie’s secret notebook.  It was nothing to Star except a brief moment to knowingly torture a weaker classmate.  Yet, Urban is able to take this one moment and show how bullying and aggressional behavior in girls can be vicious and cruel.  To Mattie, she was remembering and having flashbacks months, maybe years later.  Sadly, this is an ugly truth about bullying.  The bully has little remorse for their actions, while the introverted Mattie has replayed the moment of pain in her head much, much too often. 

Loving the NEW Paperback Cover
This book can, and should be a powerful tool in classrooms and libraries.  It promotes a right to be heard for awkward students, it turns a mirror on unkind bullies, it gives a voice to the shy, and it creates a success story for readers rooting for young Mattie.  Unlike most books about shy pre-teens, Mattie doesn’t suddenly win a contest or learn to sing loudly in the church choir.  She learns that being shy is part of who she is, but doesn’t have to silence her.  She learns that friendships don’t all look alike.  She learns that accidents sometimes create opportunities.  She learns all of this and more, and readers of Urban’s Hound Dog True, if they read and connect the way I did, will learn all of this too.

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