School Library Journal
Gr 4�7—Life is hard for 13-year-old Mikhail Tarkov and his family in their rural Russian community. World War II has ended and the Germans are gone, but Mikhail's father has not come home. When the boy finds a dying man and his German shepherd in the woods, he is determined to keep the dog despite the hatred many Russians feel for everything German. He convinces his mother, brother, and sister to hide the dog they name Zasha on their farm, out of sight of dog thieves and a meddlesome schoolmate. Mikhail learns of a soldier building a kennel on a nearby farm in hopes of breeding a new Russian dog, since so few dogs of any breed were left alive after the war. Dimitri Moravsky wins the boy's trust and proves to be a true friend to the Tarkovs when dog thieves come back for Zasha. In a moving climax, great courage is exhibited and Mikhail's father returns home. Roger Mueller narrates Randi Barrow's tale (Scholastic, 2011) using a slight Russian accent throughout, and he believably conveys the boy's love for this beautiful, intelligent dog and his determination to keep her. Dog lovers of all ages will enjoy this fast-paced, beautifully told story.—Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN
In her first book for children, adult author Barrow brings readers a gentle and suspenseful story straight from the heart of a dog-lover. Just after WWII ends, 13-year-old Mikhail finds a beautiful German shepherd named Zasha and her owner, Petr, in the woods near his small Russian town. Shortly after, Petr dies and Mikhail and his family (except for his father, who has not yet returned from the war) are determined to keep the beloved dog hidden from those seeking to capture or kill the dog because of the breed's association with Germany: Katia, a nosy schoolmate and the daughter of the newspaper editor investigating Petr's death; Dimitri, a breeder who hopes to create a Russian superdog; and a pair of conniving dog thieves. Mikhail's sense of humor, concern for his family, and love of Zasha are all readily apparent in his narration, which smoothly incorporates background information for readers unfamiliar with 20th-century Russian life and history. If occasionally precious, Barrow's novel is quick reading yet weighty, and captures the prejudices and aftereffects of war. Ages 9�13. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for SAVING ZASHA
"Barrow's novel is quick reading yet weighty, and captures the prejudices and aftereffects of war." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Mikhail's first person account will grab readers with the physical details of training and protecting his beloved pet as well as the history of the devastating war and its aftermath."
"A highly engaging and ultimately hopeful animal story with a strong sense of time and place." KIRKUS
"[T]his story captures the love of a boy for his dog and reflects the dark effects of war on both humans and animals..." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Children's Literature - Jody Little
Set in Russia at the end of World War II, brothers Mikhail and Nikolai stumble upon an injured man in the forest near their farm one day. With the man is the most beautiful German Shepherd Mikhail has ever seen. The boys know they must help this man, but they also understand that all things German, even dogs, are considered dangerous and unwanted. The boys are determined to protect this dog. When the dog's owner dies of his wounds, Mikhail's mother decides they must take the man into town, but they decide not tell the police about his dog, Zasha. Hiding Zasha proves to be difficult. Mikhail and his family do not anticipate thieves roaming about, or the appearance of Mikhail's classmate, Katia, who seems to be lurking about their farm, asking questions. It is only when Mikhail meets Dimitri, a former soldier, who has been assigned the task of raising and breeding dogs for a Russian "superdog" that Mikhail begins to believe that perhaps Zasha will be safe from harm. Told without any graphic images of violence, this book tells a wonderful story of a family, their love of a dog and their desire to keep the dog safe. The authors' notes at the end of the novel share some history of the breeding of the "superdog," the Black Russian Terrier. Dog lovers will thoroughly enjoy this novel and certainly be interested in learning more about the Russian "superdog" on their own. Reviewer: Jody Little
VOYA - Jen McIntosh
Mikhail is a young Russian boy living in the aftermath of World War II. His soldier father has been missing since the end of the war, food and resources are limited, and there is still a large amount of fear and distrust. The Russians are so angry at Germany that they have outlawed owning a German-breed dog and have executed any they find. When Mikhail discovers a dying man in the woods with a German shepherd, he understands the dangerous risk of adopting the dog but decides to do it anyway. He and his family must keep Zasha a secret from the government, dog thieves, and even their own neighbors, but that proves hard to do with a young nosy girl asking too many questions. There are many books about kids dealing with war and its ramifications, but this book is unique in its focus on dogs. An afterword describes the real development of the black Russian terrier as a response to the decimated dog population in Russia after the war. Unlike most dog books, Saving Zasha has a happy ending, with all loose ends tied up nicely. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking or remarkable about the writing, but it will be popular with dog lovers as well as students who need to satisfy historical fiction requirements but do not like to read traditional historical fiction. Reviewer: Jen McIntosh
In an evocatively realized post–World War II Russia, as some of the severe hardships of war are receding, 13-year-old Mikhail, his older brother, younger sister and mother are suddenly faced with a new peril when they decide to keep a beautiful female German shepherd after its owner dies. They must hide her carefully. The few dogs remaining after the brutal war have become targets for unscrupulous thieves, while anything even vaguely German is liable to be destroyed by authorities or an angry public. The nosy daughter of the local newspaper owner is relentless in her determination to discover the secret she's certain they're hiding. Each new threat effectively heightens the sense of danger, making this a page-turner. A parallel story—the Russian Army's attempt to develop a uniquely Russian breed of working dog—weaves through the account of the family's efforts to protect an innocent pet. Some of the specific atrocities of war suffered by dogs are briefly described. A highly engaging and ultimately hopeful animal story with a strong sense of time and place.(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
"Out of the darkness of the forest came the most beautiful German Shepherd. It was the first time I’d seen a dog in years, and never one this exquisite. I was awestruck. "