The Good Dog

The Good Dog

4.5 48
by Avi

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When the Wild Calls

McKinley, a malamute, is a good dog — he's reliable and trustworthy. Whether it's watching over the other dogs of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, or taking care of his human pup, Jack, McKinley never even thinks of letting anyone down — until he meets Lupin. Lupin is a she-wolf and she's urging the dogs of Steamboat Springs to leave

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When the Wild Calls

McKinley, a malamute, is a good dog — he's reliable and trustworthy. Whether it's watching over the other dogs of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, or taking care of his human pup, Jack, McKinley never even thinks of letting anyone down — until he meets Lupin. Lupin is a she-wolf and she's urging the dogs of Steamboat Springs to leave their domesticated lives and join her wild pack. And though she scares McKinley, he also finds himself drawn to her and the life of freedom that she offers.
For the first time, McKinley's loyalties are torn. Should he stay with his humans and continue to lead the dogs of Steamboat Springs? Or should he join the wolf and live freely, like his ancestors did? When the wild calls, what will McKinley's answer be?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Themes reminiscent of Jack London's The Call of the Wild ring throughout this vividly imagined animal story. From a canine perspective, Avi (Poppy) relates how a malamute named McKinley's life changes after he encounters a wolf. Head dog in Steamboat Springs, McKinley leads a busy life, protecting his family (including his "human pup," Jack) and keeping order among his canine compatriots in the mountain town. While trying to aid a runaway the forlorn greyhound, Duchess, whose owner offers a reward for her return McKinley encounters Lupin, a wolf who hopes to recruit dogs for her dwindling pack. Lupin's indictment of dogs ("tongue-lapping, tail-wagging slaves who take their food from bowls!") both stirs and shames McKinley; he soon finds his loyalties torn as he simultaneously tries to foil Jack's misguided plan to join the wolves, keep a wounded Lupin safe from those hunting her and fend off Redburn, a conniving Irish setter bent on usurping the hero's place as head dog. The action moves along at a crackling pace, reaching a crescendo in a dramatic moonlight confrontation. The dog's-eye point of view allows for some creative touches, including insights into animal behavior and the vocabulary McKinley uses for various human objects ("eating sticks" for utensils; "a block of staring papers" for book; "glow box" for television), but most compelling of all is the transformation of McKinley's happy-go-lucky character into a truly majestic leader. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The renowned author of two Newbery Honor books, Avi tries something a little different this time. The story is told from the point of view of McKinley, a German shepherd. In a remote Colorado town, a wolf is trying to make contact with the dogs of the area. The wolf has great disdain for the domestic lifestyle that the dogs comfortably have accepted, yet she wants to recruit a few of them to replenish her pack. This message comes just as an arrogant, spoiled Irish setter begins challenging McKinley for the position of head dog in the town. McKinley is faced with one dilemma after another—considering the wolf's offer himself, preventing his young master from joining the town's wolf hunt, helping a runaway greyhound escape from its owner, and keeping the interfering Irish setter away from them both. Things get more complicated when the wolf is injured and McKinley hides her and then gets in trouble by stealing meat from his home to feed her. A final confrontation with the hunters and the setter and a daring escape bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. There are some clever devices in the story;the dogs can only understand bits and pieces of what humans say, and they have unusual names for human devices they do not understand, such as televisions and refrigerators. This contrivance, however, gets a little old by the end of the book. Overall this novel for the upper elementary or middle school audience is satisfying, with plenty of adventure, pathos, and conflict. VOYA CODES:4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses;Broad general YA appeal;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Simon & Schuster, 256p, $16. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer:KevinBeach—VOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
Children's Literature
Avi's latest quick read comes from the perspective of McKinley, Jack's beloved malamute. McKinley and Jack share many qualities and concerns of adolescent boys. When a lone she-wolf wanders the outskirts of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, searching for dogs willing to help her to repopulate the pack, McKinley becomes pulled between the wild, free world of his wolf ancestors and the secure confines of his human family. Jack, McKinley's "pup," is an adventurous youngster who wants to share a "jungle book" type of experience with this wolf by joining him for a period in the wild. McKinley is torn between protecting Jack from the wild lupin and exploring his wild animal side while maintaining his leadership position with the town dogs. This turn on point-of-view will keep readers riveted through the last page. 2001, Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Mary Sue Preissner
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-A story with a decidedly canine point of view that will delight dog lovers. Jack's malamute, McKinley, is the top dog in Steamboat Springs, CO. His enemy is not a cat but a sad excuse for an Irish setter, Redburn. Sedate small-town life is interrupted by the appearance of Lupin, a she-wolf that urges dogs to free themselves from the tyranny of domesticated life. The noble McKinley tries to help her, and save a mistreated greyhound, but is misunderstood and relegated to the "dog house" by rather dim-witted humans. Communication between dogs and humans is awkward at best. There is a lot of dialogue among the dogs, among the humans, and between humans and dogs. The people come off as pretty stupid and McKinley is rather tolerant of the limitations of his "human pup" owner. It is confusing that sometimes McKinley seems to understand exactly what humans think and say and at other times professes ignorance. Still, fans of the film version of The Incredible Journey and Beethoven will lap this up as it has a very cinematic feel. Many scenes seem almost written directly for film. Readers will have no problem following the rapid, almost relentless action. John Erickson's "Hank the Cowdog" series (Viking) and James Howe's "Bunnicula" series (Atheneum) are similar in tone.-Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When the wild calls, will this good dog answer? For McKinley the malamute is a very good dog, one who takes his contract with his humans seriously: he assiduously guards his human family, especially the pup, Jack. He is also a politically astute dog: he is head dog of the Steamboat Springs dog pack. His retriever friend Aspen, had she the language of pop psychology, would call him a codependent dog: "You watch out for everybody but yourself." His comfortable life is disturbed when a lamed wolf, Lupin, comes down out of the hills to recruit dogs to join her dwindling pack. McKinley feels drawn to her wildness, while at the same time remaining mindful of his doggy responsibilities. These become immensely more complicated when his pup (inspired by The Jungle Book and Julie of the Wolves) decides to try to run away and live with the wolves even as the human community gears up for a massive wolf hunt and an upstart Irish setter begins to challenge McKinley's leadership. How can McKinley acquit his obligations to his pup, to Lupin, and to an abused greyhound whose escape sets the plot in motion, while at the same time preserving his position in the pack? Avi (The Secret School, p. 1021, etc.) by and large does a creditable job of keeping the many subplots going, although the action occasionally gets bogged down in discussions of the political doggy climate. The narrative is filtered through a dog's-eye-view with occasional whimsical touches (streets have names like "Horse Smell Way"), but for the most part the text takes itself as seriously as McKinley does. Almost wholly absent from the story is a real exploration of the mutual affection that underlies the human-dog relationship;without this, McKinley's decision to stay with his humans rather than follow Lupin is an intellectual, and ultimately unsatisfying, one. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.70(d)
480L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

"Dad! Ma! McKinley! Guess what I saw!"

McKinley had been sleeping in the front yard bushes. Hearing the familiar voice, he lifted his head and looked around with sleepy eyes. He was just in time to see Jack, his human pup, skid so fast on his mountain bike that gravel scattered everywhere. The boy leaped off the bike, raced across the place where the cars sat, and ran into the house.

Now what? McKinley wondered.

Though he would have liked to sleep more, McKinley stood, yawned, stretched his muscles until they were tight, then relaxed them until they were loose. Shaking his head, he jangled his collar tags, and then ambled toward the house.

By the time McKinley reached the door, it had already swung shut. As he had taught himself to do, he bent down, wedged a large forepaw where there was a gap beneath the door, extended his claws, and pushed. The door popped open a little.

Sticking his nose into the gap, McKinley shoved the door further open and squirmed inside. Once there, he sniffed. Smelling dinner, he trotted down the hallway, wagging his tail, till he heard Jack saying, "Dad, I'm not making it up, I really saw a wolf."

McKinley stopped short. His tail drooped. Was that the wolf word the boy had used?

When he was young — Jack had also been much younger — McKinley had spotted a wolf during a walk with his people. It was just a glimpse, but the people had seen it, too. They had become very excited, That's when McKinley learned the wolf word. He could recall the wolf's reek, a mix of deep woods, dark earth, and fresh meat. Its wildness had frightened him. And excited him. But that was a long time ago.

Wide awake now, McKinley hurried past the large room and into the small food place.

Jack was talking to the man of the family. Sometimes the man was called Dad, sometimes Gil. McKinley liked him and the way he always smelled of the outdoors.

"Now, hang on, Jack." the man said. "You sure it wasn't just a big old German shepherd? They can look a lot like a wolf."

McKinley stood still, his head cocked. There it was again, the wolf word.

"No way, Dad " the human pup answered. "You know how much I've read about wolves. I'm sure this was one. I mean, yeah, at first I thought it was McKinley. But it wasn't."

Wanting to understand more, McKinley jumped onto one of the sitting places near where the humans put their food when they ate. Mouth slightly open, tail wagging, he sat, turning from the pup to the man as each spoke.

"I'm not saying you're wrong," the man said. "Just, if you're right, it's pretty amazing. Hasn't been a wolf sighted around here for years. Remember the time we spotted one up in the Zirkel Wilderness? But not here in Steamboat Springs."

McKinley saw Jack look around. "Where's Mom?"

At the mention of Jack's female — the boy called her Mom, the man called her Sarah — McKinley barked once. The woman spent time on Most Cars Way in a place where there was lots of food, and often brought him treats — like bones.

Gil said, "She has to work the dinner shift. So it'll be just you and me tonight. Sausages and carrots. And your mom made bread. Now keep talking as you set the table."

Jack A but threw down his eating sticks and tall, clear bowls as he chattered. I was a little scared," he was saying. "I mean, that wolf redly surprised me. I think I surprised him, too."

The human pup poured water for himself and the man into the tall bowls, then thumped down onto the sitting place. McKinley edged closer to the boy.

"Here's grub," "the man said as he brought food to the boy and sat across from him. "And I'm starving."

McKinley, eyeing the food, drooled and licked his own nose.

"I was marking trail up by Rabbit Ears Pass all day," the man said. "Fair amount of snow up there already. Promises a good season."

"Hear that, McKinley?" Jack cried. "Snow is coming!"

Snow, a word McKinley knew and loved. He barked in appreciation.

"But go on," the man said to the pup. "Tell me exactly what you saw."

Jack spoke between mouthfuls. "See — the wolf had this thick, gray fur coat — with sort of flecks of gold. His head was wide — his muzzle was light colored — and I think he had a limp."

"Was he bigger than McKinley?"

Jack turned toward him. McKinley, wishing the human pup would calm down and speak slower, leaned over and licked his face.

"A lot skinnier," Jack said, wiping his cheek with the back of a hand. "Longer legs, too. Gray fur. Not blackish."

"You didn't see a collar, did you?"

"No way."

"Describe his eyes."

McKinley watched closely as Jack swallowed the last of the sausage. "Not, you know, brown and round like McKinley's. Like, sort of yellowish. And, you know, egg-shaped."

The man reached for his tall bowl and drank. Then he said, "Well, that's certainly wolflike. Where'd you see him?"

"Up in Strawberry Park."

McKinley yawned with nervousness. Strawberry Park was a small valley outside of Steamboat Springs. It was hemmed in by forested hills, and beyond, by snow-peaked mountains. Looming over everything was the great mountain, where most of the humans did their snow sliding.

There were only a few houses in the area, and the dogs who lived there ran completely free. McKinley was head dog there as well as in town.

"What were you doing there?" Gil asked.

Jack shrugged. "School was out. I was exploring."

"McKinley with you?"

Jack gave his dog a quick smile. "Wish he was."

Liking the attention, McKinley barked.

"Hey, how about feeding him his dinner?"

"McKinley, I'm sorry!"

The pup leaped up.

McKinley watched as jack snatched his food bowl from the floor, then reached into a food box. The boy put some bits into the bowl, added water, and set it back on the ground. As a final touch, he placed two dog biscuits on top.

McKinley wagged his tail, jumped off the sitting place, and went for the wet food, gulping down the biscuits first.

"Jack," Gil said, "if that was a wolf — and I'm not saying it wasn't — there are going to be lots of people in town stirred up. Generally speaking, folks don't like wolves."

McKinley stopped eating to look around. There it was again, the wolf word.

"I know, Dad," Jack said. "People say wolves are mean and vicious. They aren't. Look at McKinley."

"McKinley is a malamute," Gil said. "Not a wolf."

"Part wolf," Jack insisted.

"Well, maybe so, way back. Not now. Look Jack, the point is, this is still ranching country. If people learn there's a wolf nearby, some of them will be wanting to hunt it down. Kill it. I'm serious, Jack. Since you like wolves, be smart. Don't let anybody know what you saw"

The words hunt and kill unsettled McKinley. Hunting was not something that Jack's family did. But there were many humans in town — and their dogs — who hunted. For McKinley it meant danger. just the sense of it made him bark.

Jack and Gil turned to look at him.

Gil asked, "What do you think he's saying?"

"Wish I knew," Jack said.

First Aladdin Paperbacks edition April 2003

Text copyright © 2001 by Avi

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