The main character in this story is Josh, a little boy who is
only slowly adjusting to life in a new town in Vermont, with his
mother and new step-dad. His mother's preoccupation with their
new baby is a source of resentment for Josh, who is, understandably,
not finding it easy to settle in to a new school or make new friends.
Through all these changes, though, Josh enjoys the constancy of
his beloved dog Manch.
One winter's day when Josh is outdoors with Manch he is surprised
to hear voices. He listens more attentively, and becomes convinced
that his dog is actually talking to another dog. Moreover, as
he listens more carefully, he learns that the dogs are discussing
a problem not dissimilar from the one Josh currently experiencing
in this new community -- that of being threatened and frightened
by a bully and his gang. Through this vehicle of talking dogs
that author Katherine Paterson weaves a tale of a small boy's
suspense and anxiety and loneliness and ultimately, Josh's attempts
to resolve the dogs' conflicts bring him to face his with his
It is a challenge for writers to take on an "issue"
like bullying and write a tale for young readers that that avoids
didacticism or moralizing, yet carries authenticity. In this story
it is the boy himself, with the help of some friends, who finds
a resolution to his own problems. This is a very positive aspect
of the story, though Paterson fans will have to decide for themselves
if this is ultimately a satisfying and convincing tale.
Readers are sure to be delighted with the vigor and child-centered
perspective of Emily McCully's finely detailed pen and ink illustrations,
scattered throughout the text.
© 2001 Judith Catton
Judith Catton is a teacher and librarian with a longstanding interest in
children's literature. After completing graduate study in Library and
Information Science, and in English in Ontario, Canada, she has worked as a
children's specialist in public libraries in both Canada and New Zealand.
Her professional interests span children's literature and learning, and
information literacy. Her current professional focus is full-time teaching
in a New Zealand primary school.