Title: Gaston
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Year of Publication: 2014

Most children will take the story at face value: a bulldog puppy (Gaston) accidentally ends up with a poodle family and, in spite of his efforts, doesn’t really fit in. From this standpoint, the book acts as a springboard for conversations about differences within families, and the idea that, ultimately, love makes a family.

Christian Robinson's illustrations are so eye-catching!

Christian Robinson’s illustrations are so eye-catching!

But wait, is there a deeper, darker side to the story? Well, stereotypes do play a prominent role. The bulldogs are portrayed as rough and tumble while the poodles are dainty and polite. There’s definitely some gender stereotyping going on. Also, I tend to lean toward a French accent when reading this book out loud.

At first the charm and simplicity of the story overpowered any of my concerns about stereotyping, especially since I’m pretty sure the author did not have any malicious intent. But perhaps that’s part of the issue? Upon further reflection, I started to think obsess about the importance of recognizing stereotypes when you see them.

It is critical to teach children this skill.

I’ll continue to sing the praises of this book, but my lessons centered on it will delve into the power of (intentional or unintentional) hidden messages.

Rain Reign

rain reign

Title: Rain Reign
Author: Ann M. Martin
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Year of Publication: 2014
Genre: realistic fiction
Literary Awards: Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2015), Charlotte Huck Book Award (2015)

As a child, I spent a lot of time reading Ann M. Martin’s series, The Babysitters Club, so it was with a bit of nostalgia that I picked up Rain Reign. I’m so glad I did! Rose (rows) Howard has Asperger syndrome. She lives with her single father, who has a hard time understanding her obsession with homonyms, prime numbers, and rules. Rose’s teachers and classmates also struggle to understand the things that make her different. Thankfully, she has her Uncle Weldon, who completely gets her, and her adopted dog Rain (reign, rein). Rain goes missing when a storm hits their rural town, and Rose is thrust into a life-changing adventure, both heartbreaking and heartwarming. With wordplay and plenty of opportunities to discuss empathy, this book would be great as a read aloud for grades four and up.


Dog Heaven

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.” -Gilda Radner

chocolate lab, beach, death of a pet

happy boy at the Oregon coast

It has been nearly five years since I said goodbye to one of my best friends: my chocolate lab, Santiago. Santi came into my life about six months after I moved to Colorado. He was a dark brown, roly poly bundle of joy. I have fond memories of exploring my adopted home state with him. I remember one of our first adventures: snowshoeing at St. Mary’s Glacier with him nestled in a blanket in my backpack, a precursor to the baby carrier I would one day wear. It was because of Santi that I met my husband. My canine BFF and I had just arrived at the parking lot of a popular trailhead one warm June day. Santi loped up to a sweet golden retriever named Charlie, accompanied by her human, Chris. Two years later, Santi and Charlie barreled down the aisle as ring bearers during our wedding ceremony. We affectionately referred to them as “the kids” and they ruled the roost until our first human baby came along.

snoozing in the backpack

snoozing in the backpack

Santi was a character. He was extremely affectionate and adored licking people’s feet as he loped by. He enjoyed having the small white patch on his chest rubbed, and would regularly clean himself like a cat with his front paws, earning him the nickname “Mittens”. Occasionally, he would wake us in the middle of the night with a haunting, call-of-the-wild-like howl. One of his most humorous quirks was his obsession with rocks. On any given hike, he would find a rock and claw at it while whining and emitting a high-pitched bark, much to the amusement of other hikers.

When Santi died, my son had just turned four. It was his first real experience with death, his first experience with grief. He had many questions and, as I often do, I turned to children’s literature for the answers.

dog heaven

We read Cynthia Rylant’s Dog Heaven numerous times. The book is just beautiful; lovely illustrations and a sweet, simple story about where dogs go when they die. Think fluffy clouds as dog beds, unlimited treats, and ponds full of ducks to bark at and chase. There are several other picture books out there that deal with the death of a dog, but this 20 year old classic is by far my favorite. Thank you, Ms. Rylant, for such a comforting depiction of where our dear canine friends go when they leave this life.