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Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog

3.4 7
by Margarita Engle, Aleksey & Olga Ivanov (Illustrator)

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When Tony's mother is sent to jail, he is sent to stay with a great uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a daunting move—Tony's new world bears no semblance to his previous one. But slowly, against a remote and remarkable backdrop, the scars from Tony's troubled past begin to heal.
With his Tió and a search-and-rescue dog named Gabe by his


When Tony's mother is sent to jail, he is sent to stay with a great uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a daunting move—Tony's new world bears no semblance to his previous one. But slowly, against a remote and remarkable backdrop, the scars from Tony's troubled past begin to heal.
With his Tió and a search-and-rescue dog named Gabe by his side, he learns how to track wild animals, is welcomed to the Cowboy Church, and makes new friends at the Mountain School. Most importantly though, it is through Gabe that Tony discovers unconditional love for the first time, in Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jill Walton
Can a dog help a damaged child heal? With a mother in prison, thirteen-year-old Tony is not open to meeting anyone, including his unknown great-uncle Tio and his rescue dog, Gabe. But Gabe knows that he and Tony will be friends forever; he can smell it. He can also sniff out the dangers of the boy’s past, including his history as the caretaker of pit bull puppies being trained to kill and the neglect Tony suffered while in his mother’s care. (This is not a “feel good” book of parent-child reunion. It’s unclear why his mother was neglectful before, and her attitude towards him while she is in prison does not change.) When Uncle Tio cooks oatmeal for their first breakfast in the cabin, Tony thinks “No one ever cooked for me. Not once.” The prose format of this book is well-suited to showing the thoughts of Gabe and Tony, as the author has them take turns sharing the narrative of the story. The warm, charming, and accurate illustrations deepen the readers’ feelings for Tony’s new world in nature. The depth of wood lore knowledge incorporated into this story is invaluable to readers of all ages. Middle readers will absorb the multi-faceted story and develop a deeper understanding of a young person’s experiences after a parent’s incarceration. Within the new genre of prison literature for young people, this story stands out. Reviewer: Jill Walton; Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Eleven-year-old Tony has had a tough life and now his mother, an immigrant, is in prison for training fighting pit bulls. Fortunately, his great uncle agrees to take him in. Tío is a forest ranger who, along with his dog Gabe, rescues people lost in the wilderness. Suddenly, Tony is living far from Los Angeles in the Sierra Nevada. Written in free verse, this story is told from the perspectives of Tony and Gabe. The chocolate lab senses the boy's internal struggles as he deals both with his sadness about his mother and his wonder at this beautiful new place. Wise and kind, Tío begins to train Tony to work with the rescue volunteers and gives his nephew the best gift of all when he welcomes him into his home permanently, helping him gain the confidence he needs to begin planning a positive future. Gabe's insights into Tony's struggles and his vividly captured doggy enthusiasm and devotion keep the story upbeat. The bond that develops between the canine and boy makes this book an inspiring read that will be especially believable to dog lovers. Black-and-white drawings appear throughout the story, and these empathetic depictions of the characters, animals, and setting capture the spirit of the text. A thoughtful and sensitive story that touches on immigration, family, and other serious issues.—Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA
Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing story of an 11-year-old boy from Los Angeles who, when his mother is incarcerated for organizing pit-bull dogfights, moves in with his forest-ranger great-uncle and his chocolate Lab in their remote cabin high in the Sierra Nevadas. Writing in verse with an understated simplicity that quietly packs a punch, Engle compassionately portrays a boy who is struggling to leave his "pit-bull life" behind--though "the sad / mad / abandoned" memories of visits to his mother in the Valley State Prison for Women make this difficult. Soon after he arrives, Tony's great-uncle Tío takes him on the first of many wilderness tours in which he learns about thru-hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail, trail angels and trail magic. And Gabe, a skilled search-and-rescue dog, plays a big and joyful role in helping Tony feel a part of things: "Gabe time. Dog time. Dirty, dusty, / rolling around in grass time"; by hiding as a volunteer "victim," Tony helps SAR dogs practice finding a lost hiker and feels useful. Revealing both Tony's and Gabe's points of view in alternating chapters, the author deftly incorporates a fascinating mix of science, nature (cool facts aplenty) and wilderness lore into a highly accessible narrative that makes room for a celebration of language: "Maybe words / are my strength. / I could turn out to be / a superhero / with secret / syllable powers." The Ivanovs' black-and-white illustrations nimbly reflect the story's tone. Poignant and memorable. (author's note) (Verse fiction. 8-12)
From the Publisher

“Fascinating.” —BCCB

“A thoughtful and sensitive story that touches on immigration, family, and other serious issues.” —School Library Journal

“Once again, Engle fictionalizes historical fact in a powerful, original story.” —Booklist, starred review on Hurricane Dancers

“The unique juxtaposition of poetry and cruelty creates a peculiar literary tension.” —VOYA on Hurricane Dancers

“Unique and inventive, this is highly readable historical fiction that provides plenty of fodder for discussion.” —School Library Journal on Hurricane Dancers

“Like intersecting riptides, several first-person narratives converge in this verse novel of the sixteenth century.” —The Horn Book Magazine on Hurricane Dancers

“The subject matter is an excellent introduction to the age of exploration and its consequences, showing slavery sinking its insidious roots in the Americas and the price paid by those who were there first.” —Publishers Weekly on Hurricane Dancers

“Taken individually the stories are slight, but they work together elegantly; the notes and back matter make this a great choice for classroom use.” —Kirkus Reviews on Hurricane Dancers

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.49(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.87(d)
1050L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


In my other life there were pit bulls.
The puppies weren’t born vicious,
but Mom taught them how to bite,
turning meanness into money,
until she got caught.
Now I don’t know where I’ll live,
or what sort of foster family
I’ll have to face each morning.
I dread the thought of a new school,
new friends, no friends, no hope.…
No! No no no no no.
But the social-worker lady doesn’t listen
to NO. She’s like a curious puppy, running,
exploring, refusing to accept collars and fences.
She keeps promising to find a relative who will
give me a place where I can belong.
I don’t believe her.
There aren’t any relatives—
not any that I’ve ever met.
I know I’m right, but family court
makes me feel dumb, with judges
and uniforms
wrapped up in rules.
It’s a world made for grown-ups,
not unlucky kids.
Even the angriest pit bulls
are friendlier than my future.
Everyone talks about dog years,
but all I can see now is minutes.
Each impossibly long dog minute
with the frowning judge
and cheerful social worker
feels like it could go on and on
Mom’s cruelty to animals
was her fault, not mine, but now
I’m the one suffering, as if her crimes
are being blamed on me.
When the social worker keeps smiling,
I find it hard to believe she’s actually found
a relative, a great-uncle, Tío Leonilo.
What a stupid name!
Maybe I can call him Leo the Lion,
or just tío, just uncle, as if I actually
know my mother’s first language,
the Spanish she left behind
when she floated away
from her native island
with me in her mean belly.
The social worker promises me
that although Tío is old—nearly fifty—
he’s cool.
He lives on a mountain, rescues lost hikers,
guides nature walks, and takes care
of trees. He’s a forest ranger.
She might as well say he’s a magician
or a genie who lives in a bottle.
I’ve spent all my life in the city.
All I know is Los Angeles noise, smog,
buses, traffic, and the gangs, and my mom,
the dogs, fangs, blood, claws.
Nothing makes sense.
Why would a cool uncle want to share
his long-lost relative’s kid-trouble?
This can’t be real.
Real life should feel real,
but this feels all weird and scary,
like a movie with zombies or aliens.
When a man in a forest green uniform
walks into the courtroom, he hugs me
and calls me Tonio, even though Mom
never called me anything but Tony
or Hey You or Toe Knee.…
Out in the hall, Tío shows me a photo
of a dog, a chocolate Lab—goofy grin,
silly drool—not a fighting dog,
just a friendly dog, eager, a pal.
Tío walks me out of that crazy
scary courthouse, into a parking lot
where the happy dog is waiting
in a forest green truck.
I have to meet Gabe’s welcoming
doggie eyes and sniffy nose,
even though I’m not ready to meet
nice dogs, cool uncles, or anyone else.
Well, maybe just one sniff is okay.
When I pat Gabe on his soft, furry head,
he gives my hand a few trusting,
slobbery licks.

copyright © 2013 by Margarita Engle

Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her books include The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, and the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award; The Poet Slave of Cuba, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; and Hurricane Dancers, winner of the Pura Belpré Award.
Olga and Aleksey Ivanov immigrated to the United States from Russia in 2002. The husband and wife team received a classical art education in Moscow and have collaborated on over 80 children's books, including The Tall Book of Mother Goose and Charlotte's Web. They live and work together in an artist studio near Denver, Colorado.

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Mountain Dog 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous 23 days ago
The book “Mountain Dog” was written by Margarita Engle in 2013. “The characters in the book “Mountain Dog,” are imaginary but the story was inspired by a real boy and real dogs.”-Margarita Engle. This book is an outstanding read as it’s told through the perspective of Gabe, the chocolate lab and Tony, the 11 year old boy who needs rescued. This book takes place in Sierra, Nevada where Tony lives with his great uncle after his mom goes to jail. This move allows Tony’s past begin to heal. Mountain Dog is a book that teaches us about family, teamwork, trust, and educates us about rescue dogs and their jobs. The book “Mountain Dog,” is a very inspirational book. It changes the way you feel about your life. I makes you feel grateful about what God has gave you because people out there in the world may not have anything. The book “Mountain Dog,” is a very fitful book. It puts you in the perspective of a very confused, emotional boy named Tony, who wants to better himself and get the life he never imagine happening. The book also puts a chocolate lab as a perspective too named Gabe. Gabe is a very soft hearted dog who feels feelings of people but can’t understand why. He grows on to relationships with people and hopes and wants for the best. From the author creating the book that way, it is very fitful for the plot of the story. I feel like Margarita Engle did a good job on the emotional part on making readers feel like they are feeling what both Tony and Gabe are feeling. Tony is 11 years old when his whole life changes. Tony’s mom goes to jail for running pitbull fights, and he is forced to move to Sierra, Nevada with his great uncle Tio. Tio is a forest ranger who helps train rescue dogs. Gabe is a chocolate lab whom is one of the rescue dogs. Tony feels that he is trapped in the way he revolves around life with his mom in Los Angeles, California. He doesn’t know if the grass will be greener on the other side with Tio in the Sierra, Nevada. When he is with Tio, Tony bonds with Gabe and learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With those skills he opens himself up to a life and a future, he never could have imagined. The author was successful in creating the characters of this novel because she had put in the perspective of Gabe the chocolate lab. I feel like that is creative. The most significant scene of the novel was chapter 37 because Tony got to get his own search and rescue puppy that is brave, focused, curious, wolf-eyed splash of sun-yellow fur, named Luz. In my opinion I thought that was a real significant moment in the book which helped/made Tony feel like he is following his great uncle Tio’s footsteps. Any changes I would make the novel better would be that I would not make the beginning DRAG on. I would have made it more suspenseful instead of just about his feelings. Maybe put Tony in the moment of sadness, pain, and suffering for hoping there is a better life for him out their. The author, to be honest, wasn’t able to hold me as a reader’s interest at the beginning but then as it went on I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. I agree with the author because just by the way she had the book. The only thing I disagree with is the beginning. It DRAGS on but otherwise it is worth reading. My overall general opinion is that everyone always deserves a better life when needed. The grass can be greener on the other side if you put yourself to it with positivity. Page 5 chap
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read!!!!!!LOVE IT!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well love dogs and i saw this book in my school libaray and i wanted it but someone took it out so now i really want this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mabey theres a sweet futrer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I havent read the book but I am in reading bowl so all the other reading bowl members say its good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lacks interest