Olive Hudson desperately wants a dog. But that doesn't seem to be a possibility right now. Newly orphaned, she's moving in with the half sister she hardly knows and their life is too chaotic to include a dog. But then something wonderful happens: Olive gets a chance to raise Lumie, a guide dog puppy. Discipline. Rules. Lots of hugs. Only the best of the best puppies continue on to become guide dogs, and of course Olive wants Lumie to be chosen. But if she is, that means that Olive will lose her. Once again, the incomparable Joan Bauer tells a touching story that is full of heart and warmth and unabashed idealism.
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It’s all about warmth right now.
There are seven of them in this L litter. Some black, some a pale yellow beige.
They stay together, they sleep together, mostly in a heap.
No one would think they are the best of the best.
At least some of them are. Maybe more than some.
They are the same size except for the tiny beige one. She’s the littlest, but she acts like the biggest.
A man, Brian, is watching the puppies on a screen. “Have we weighed that little one?”
“Not yet,” says Christine, who works with the puppies. “She eats like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I can see that.” Brian watches the littlest puppy pushing through her brothers and sisters to get to her mother’s milk. He laughs as she finds a prime spot and sucks away.
“Something tells me not to worry about you,” Brian says to the screen.
“We’ll see,” says Christine.
A boy, Jordan, age thirteen, has seen his share of newborn puppies. He never gets tired of it. He is taking notes for a presentation he has to give at his leadership training class this summer. Jordan would rather do anything than give an oral report to a room full of humans. But he was chosen.
“It’s an honor,” his mother keeps telling him.
“I’d rather pay someone to be me for that morning.” Jordan’s throat feels like he’s been chewing sawdust just thinking about it.
The littlest one is showing courage.
She can push her way through a crowd already.
She isn’t waiting for someone to help her.
Jordan knows this can be good or bad, depending. He writes,
What’s good about this—
she knows how to get her needs met.
What could be a problem—she might be too pushy.
Jordan keeps watching. He comes every day after school to watch the puppies grow.
The puppies open their eyes. Their ears open too.
What’s that like for them?
Now they can see?
Now they can hear?
It’s too early to tell much of anything.
Who will make it?
But Jordan likes to see if his hunches are right.
He grins as the puppies crawl, squirm, and bump into each other.
He moves his chair closer to the screen. His eyesight isn’t the best.
For now, he can see some.
He can see enough.
Sometimes you’re my friend
And sometimes it feels like you’re out to get me.
I don’t understand how each day has the same twenty-four hours,
But some days go so fast
While others feel like they’re a month long.
I don’t understand how you yank me into the future
when I focus on my dreams.
How you pull me back into the past
when I remember things that are over.
Why do some memories stay so strong
And others disappear like they never meant anything?
Why does last period in school go so slowly?
Why do I remember the answer to a test question
two days after the test is over?
Why do some people have less time on Earth than others?
Why do flowers have shorter lives than weeds?
Just this month, would you slow down every hour
so I can stay in my house longer
and be with my friends longer?
You are Time. You can do that—right?
You go on forever.
I want to hold on to forever so badly.
—Olive Hudson, former sixth grader
I learned this lesson early.
I take my sheet of blue paper out of my pocket. Here’s what I’d written:
Maudie is my big sister. Seriously big—six foot three and a quarter inches to be exact. The tallest female I have ever known personally.
I have more to add. I smooth out the blue paper and write:
Forever is a complicated word for me.
I am standing in Mrs. Barnstormer’s kitchen facing Hyacinth, the most spoiled dog in New Jersey. Being a companion to Hyacinth is my everyday job, which is helping me save up to afford my own dog someday. Already I’ve bought a leash, a collar, a water bowl, and two chew toys shaped like gorillas.
You can’t just have a dream and expect it to come to you. You’ve got to get something you can hold on to that shouts, “This is going to happen!”
I wanted to do a lot more for Hyacinth this last year, but her way of going through life is a living example of that ancient saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” My dad called her “intractable,” which means she’s not moving unless it’s her idea.
I can relate to not wanting to move.
I go to the refrigerator and get her special food—real sirloin steak cut into tiny pieces. Hyacinth is so spoiled, she expects to be hand-fed. She looks at the sirloin I’m waving in front of her mouth. I lower my voice to sound older. “You can do this.”
“Look. Being able to feed yourself is a basic life skill. You’ll feel better about everything. You’ll have respect.” I take a bite of sirloin, which tastes good. Hyacinth growls. I toss the meat in her shiny bowl and say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
This is what Maudie put on the poster she made last month when we knew we had to move. Maudie wasn’t the first one to say it. The poster shows two girls who look like Maudie and me—one tall, one short—stepping out on a long road, unafraid. My sister is an amazing artist. You see something like this, you get totally inspired, until you have to take the first step.
Hyacinth sits there. I rub her neck the way she likes it. “You’re going to get a new person to be with you tomorrow. Me and my sister, we’ve got to—”
A drip, drip sound. The faucet in Mrs. Barnstormer’s kitchen is leaking. I take a look and reach for Dad’s multi-tool that I wear on my belt. I unscrew the handle, unfold the pliers, tighten the ring, and screw the handle back on. The dripping stops.
I like fixing things.
My dad taught me to do this. He’s a plumber. Actually, hewas a plumber.
He died six months ago, which is why I’m living with my big sister. Maudie and I met two weeks before Dad died. We’re still kind of new at being sisters.
After Dad died, we had one money problem after another, beginning with Dad’s biggest customer going bankrupt and not paying him for an entire year’s work.
Maudie had to sell her car.
And then we had to sell the house.
But Maudie got a new job as a graphic designer at an advertising agency in a place no one has ever heard of—Three Bridges, New Jersey—three hours away.
“It’s a good job,” she told me, “with excellent benefits and health insurance. It will help us get back on our feet.”
I look at the blue paper. Under “I would like a dog who will love me basically forever,” I add:
I add the two exclamation marks even though Mrs. Cox, my former sixth-grade English teacher, said that exclamation marks were greatly overused by my generation.
I told her, “I don’t really see my generation getting over it,” and she burst out laughing.
I bring the concept home:
I sign it with my initials—OH!
That’s me. Olive Hudson.
I fold the paper and put it back in my pocket. Hyacinth is watching me.
“Bye, girl. I wish I could have helped you more.”
I walk out Mrs. Barnstormer’s back door remembering what my dad told me.
Life doesn’t always work out the way you want or expect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an adventure.
At this moment in time—and that would be June 21, 1:43 p.m.—I have zero adventure in me.
The Littlest One
The puppies grow fast. It’s like watching one of those time-lapse videos where everything is sped up.
At three weeks of age, they tried standing, although they weren’t sure what to do with their hind legs.
The littlest puppy has good balance. She was the first of the litter to actually stand and not fall over.
She looked surprised when she did it.
The others tried too, and mostly fell down.
Ha! She’s a leader.
The puppies learned to sit and walk around, although their walking was more like tripping and toppling.
Plus, they squeaked. Over and over they went.
The noises were introduced.
Some of the puppies were surprised when the sounds began. Some weren’t.
The littlest one doesn’t let anything stop her focus.
She keeps eating.
Sirens? Rumbling trucks? Airplanes taking off?
She keeps playing with every toy in the playroom.
I’ve never seen a puppy this focused.
But can she get big enough to do the work?
Come on, girl, grow!