Ms. Yingling's Reviews > The Dogs of Winter

The Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron
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Jun 06, 2012

it was amazing
Read in June, 2012

When five-year-old Ivan's beloved babushka (grandmother) dies, his single mother lapses into depression and ends up with an abusive boyfriend. Eventually, the mother disappears, and the boyfriend takes Ivan (whose mother called him Mishka) to the city, where he attempts to hand him over to an orphanage. Mishka feels that if he stays there, he will not not be able to find his mother, so he lives instead on the streets. The other children are mean because he is so small, although for a while he falls in with a small band of children who report to Rudy and give him their money. Of course, if they don't collect enough during the day, they are beaten. Mishka would love to have a dog (the children take dogs with them because they get more money that way), but Rudy won't let him keep one, so he runs away. He ends up with a pack of dogs who protect him from the cruel Russian winters, older street children, and all manner of threats. In turn, he protects the dogs as much as he is able. He lives this way for quite some time, moving to the city in the winter, where they can ride the trains and be warm, going to charity when he desperately needs clothes, and begging for money for food because he doesn't feel right stealing it. He makes a few human friends, but the dogs are the ones who become family. When he meets an elderly woman at the edge of the woods, she becomes concerned for his well-being and asks her policeman son to find Mishka, who does not want to go to an orphanage. Eventually, the police catch him, and he is separated from the dogs and raised in a facility for troubled children. This is based on the true story of a feral Russian boy in the 1990s, Ivan Mishukov.
Strengths: This is a brilliantly written book. I felt cold and could practically feel my scalp itch when Mishka had a lice infested hat! Without ever lapsing in to oversentimentality, Pyron describes the privations of life on the streets and the love that the dogs and Mishka feel for each other. Students who like stories about survival, dogs, child abuse, or life in other countries will all find this to be a riveting read. This may be my middle grade fiction nomination for the Cybils Awards.
Weaknesses: At first, I wasn't sure who the audience would be for this, since it starts off with Mishka's fairly comfortable life with his mother and grandmother. Once I got through the first couple of chapters, though, it was riveting and full of nonstop excitement and action.
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