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Monday, June 6, 2011

Buddy's Tail


Buddy's Tail by K. Anne Russell

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "Buddy Boutonniere, a big-hearted standard Poodle, subsists in the bare backyard of a tract home in the desert city of Yucca Dunes. MacKenzie, a Border Collie, and Javier, a Chihuahua, provide Buddy with companionship and bring him food when his neglectful owners forget to provide for him. When Buddy's owners decide to move, Buddy meets a wonderful lady who visits his house with prospective buyers. The poodle's humans try to sell their dog and Buddy goes through a series of unsuitable living situations. The final family returns Buddy to the tract home not realizing the owners are away. Buddy dies, but is brought back to life by Sonny, the Good Shepherd. Sonny grants Buddy's wish to go live with the wonderful lady, in return for his promise to go with Sonny when he comes back for him. Buddy has a happy life with the lady and her dog, Skootch. Years later, Sonny comes for Buddy. True to his word, Buddy goes without complaint. Sonny takes Buddy to Haven, the canine paradise, where he is reunited with MacKenzie. Their only responsibility is to help guide other dogs to Haven. Buddy excels at guiding, but on a mission to bring back a bomb dog from Afghanistan, Buddy breaks the rules and helps a human, the dog's Marine partner. Buddy is dragged before a tribunal, where MacKenzie defends him. With the help of the marine and a little girl, MacKenzie convinces the judges that Buddy is not an offender, but a hero."

I was really excited to read this book. I'm always looking for good books for my 9 yr.-old to read. As I've stated in the past, he's read all the "Fablehaven" and all the "Harry Potter" books and loved them. I do not read the back cover summary before I read a book, and therefore, I was not prepared for the storyline of this book. I do not know if I would have read it if I had known beforehand what would happen. After finishing the book I read a lot of reviews on Amazon.com and was taken back. Most of the reviewers loved the book and think it is great for children. I, on the other hand, have a very different opinion. I will not be letting my 9 yr.-old read this book. It seems silly, since he has read some pretty scary and dark books and I was fine with it, but this is different. This book disturbed me, as an adult. The only reason I finished the book was because I was reviewing it.

Ms. Russell's writing is good. I like her style of writing. There are some confusing parts because each chapter jumps from time to different time, and different dog, but you eventually figure out what is going on. It's the content of the book that I didn't like. It is fiction, but it is "too close to home." Buddy is very neglected by his owners. I don't like animal cruelty and it is good to teach your children about responsibility with animals, but watching an animal die because of neglect is disturbing. Also, the whole bit with the Hummer man is awful, to say the least. This cruel man, who drives a Hummer, kills one of the dogs' friends and seemed to enjoy it. So all these dogs hate this man. In the book they chase after him barking every time he drives by. Then in the story, you read about this Hummer man who hits a little girl with his car and drives away, leaving her critically injured. This Hummer man also ends up killing another one of the dogs later in the story. It's difficult to read because it is so upsetting. 

After MacKenzie dies, because the Hummer man hit her, she goes to Haven, which is canine paradise. She guides other dogs to Haven when they pass. Buddy eventually passes and also becomes a guide dog. Ok, I'm Christian and I believe in Heaven and life after death, but how do you discuss this book without bringing that up? I have my degree in elementary education and I'm very aware of the separation between church and state. What if there is a child in the class who doesn't believe in Heaven? This book is fiction, as I said, but it is so "real." It's not like discussing a fantasy "Heaven," if that makes sense. In Haven Buddy has to go and get a bomb dog who dies in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb explodes under his vehicle. Ok, I know this is on the news a lot, but that doesn't mean I let my 9 yr.-old watch it! Why would I want him to read about it? He's only nine. He doesn't need to worry about soldiers and their dogs dying in Afghanistan yet. Someday he will, but not yet. And that scene was particularly disturbing for me to read.

The morals of the story are good: be kind to and responsible with animals, loyalty, friendship, helping each other. They are all good lessons to learn, but I do not feel the means to accomplishing this is the correct way. In my family we have had pets die, and it's devastating to children. Even the 1 in. long fish who dies brings out a flood of tears. Reading about these terrible deaths would not help, I don't think, to lessen my children's sadness when a pet dies. I think it just puts disquieting images in their heads and makes them worry about things they don't need to worry about yet. The book states it is for children 9 and up, but it was too much for me. I would not recommend it for 9 yr.-olds.

Rating: PG-13 (Awful doggy deaths, animal cruelty and neglect, a hit-and-run accident, a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan that kills a Marine and his dog)

Recommendation: High School and up, maybe. It may be hard for a high school sophomore to handle. Really, this is just too much. I wanted to stop reading after the hit-and-run accident which left a little girl in critical condition in the hospital. Had I not been reviewing the book I would not have finished. The book does state for 9 yr.-olds and up, but I would strongly suggest waiting. I really hope it does not find its way into 4th grade classrooms. I don't think the beneficial lessons learned are worth the painful images in the delivery method.

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