A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday John Jakes (Susanna of the Alamo) and Junko Morimoto (Two Bullies).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Andrew Lang (1844â€“1912), Blue Fairy Book and Beni Montresor (1926â€“2001), May I Bring a Friend.
- Itâ€™s the birthday of Jack Johnson (1878â€“1946), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, known as the â€śGalveston Giant.â€ť Read Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
- Composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685â€“1750) was also born on this day. Read Bachâ€™s Goldberg Variations by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel, and Bachâ€™s Big Adventure by Sallie Ketcham, illustrated by Timothy Bush.
Today Iâ€™d like to acknowledge two holidays. March has been designated Ethical Awareness Month, and today is National Sheâ€™s Funny That Way Day, a time for people to list the five ways that the women in their lives make them laugh.
When I thought about a funny, engaging character who faces an ethical dilemma, Georgina Hayes of Barbara Oâ€™Connorâ€™s How to Steal a Dog came instantly to mind. Oâ€™Connor moves with grace through this story of a young girl, abandoned by her father and now facing hard times. Her opening line grabs the readerâ€™s attention immediately: â€śThe day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.â€ť
Thrown out of their apartment because they cannot pay rent, Georgina, her mother, and her younger brother Toby all work desperately to keep their lives as normal as possible. Georgina becomes more and more unkempt, begins to fail at school, and loses her friends. But she is a girl with a plan — she wants to help her mother get enough money for a deposit on a place to live. When she sees a sign that offers a five-hundred-dollar reward for finding a dog, Georginaâ€™s mind begins working overtime. If she canâ€™t find this dog, why not steal another one and then claim the money?
So she keeps a notebook about her ideasâ€”what types of dogs to look for and what kinds of houses to case. Finally she spots the perfect dog in what seems the perfect neighborhood, and then realizes she has no place to hide a stolen animal. However, she and Toby persist in their quest. Only after Georgina takes a dog from its owner does she begin to have qualms about what she has just done. The situation doesnâ€™t seem as ethically clear-cut as Georgina first believed (after all, she desperately needs money and other people have more of it than they need), particularly after she befriends the owner.
Rarely has a family struggling with poverty been so brilliantly portrayed in fiction for young readers, and few books for children have ever explored an ethical issue so clearly. Does the poverty of Georginaâ€™s family override what a decent human being should do? Basically a caring, good person caught in bad circumstances, Georgina makes the right decision, just as readers hope she will. For any readers concerned about the final outcome or the morality of the book, Georgina makes the lesson she learned quite clear: â€śDO NOT STEAL A DOG.â€ť
Personally, I spent my entire first reading of this book worried about the dog, Willy, but like the protagonist, both he and his owner are fine at the end. Extremely successful as a read-aloud for third through fifth grades or for book discussion groups, How to Steal a Dog has gained a host of fans, many who believe that it is the best book that they have ever read.
Hereâ€™s a passage from How to Steal a Dog:
These are the rules for finding a dog:
1. The dog must not bark too much.
2. The dog must not bite.
3. The dog must be outside by itself sometimes.
4. The dog must be loved a lot and not just some old dog that nobody cares about.
5. The owner of the dog must look like somebody who will pay a lot of money to get their dog back, like maybe someone who has a big house and rides in a limo or something like that.
Originally posted March 31, 2011. Updated for 2012.