A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

Not the sort of book that usually appeals to me, but if I ever get approached by school teachers or parents looking for a make-you-think read I always mention this one. Just brilliant, plus her website includes some rather nifty teaching resource packs.

On with the review!

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780007455034
Published: 26/4/2012

Front cover: Rob van de Peppel 
Cally is silent. Absolutely silent. Her mother died recently and while her father tries to cope with the sudden loss, Cally keeps seeing her mum as they’re out and about. Whenever she tries to tell anyone about it though, she’s told to be quiet. So when her school throws a Sponsored Silence and Cally enters and wins, she decides to stay silent, and keep seeing her mum. No matter what anyone says, Cally stays silent and her mum’s ‘ghost’ stays, now joined by a mysterious large grey dog.  When her father loses his job and the family have to move into a new flat, Cally makes friends with the deaf/blind boy on the floor below and together they investigate the grey dog they keep seeing as they go about the park.
Although it’s a tearjerker, it’s not an angst-fest and I’m especially fond of the friendship that strikes up between Cally and Sam, the deaf/blind boy on the floor below. It’s great when you see books featuring kids that aren’t all picture-perfect  ‘I-belong-in-an-Enid-Blyton-world’ children  in mainstream novels. It makes sense to me – you get deaf/blind kids in real life, so why not in fiction? It’s happening more often now that the kids in books are as varied as they are in real life and it makes absolute sense because children can be some of the last people to judge someone based on their appearance or abilities (bullies aside). Kids don’t always need specialist books ‘introducing’ a disability, carefully explaining it so they’ll understand, since more often than not they just want to find out what it is, how it affects the character, and then push on to the actual story.  Books that just happen to have a character in a wheelchair are much more in line with children’s thinking I think, since disability or differences don’t stick out that much to them necessarily as much as they do to adults, or at least not in the same way. Which is exactly the way Cally goes about it in this book – she learns all about Braille and they figure out a way for her and Sam to communicate when one can’t speak and the other can’t hear or see, and that’s it, it makes no other impact on their friendship or on the book. They just learn to talk differently, the main focus is still Cally’s mum and the mystery of the grey dog.  It’s such a nice change to see a book featuring disability where the disability isn’t the theme of the book itself and I have to applaud it for that first off. One of the main characters is blind, so what? What are he and Cally doing about this dog then, that’s what I want to know!
This is one of those books that will keep you engrossed but doesn’t have a huge plot to it, hence why the synopsis above looks a bit bland.  It’s an emotional story, rather than an action-packed one, and  will leave you thinking about it for days afterwards. It feels like it’s not been written as a children’s book, but rather as a book that would be suitable for children, if you understand me. I once heard a famous author (who I shall not name, in case I’ve misremembered this!) explain that he didn’t write with children in mind, it just so happens that what he writes is perfect for children to read. There’s more than an element of that here, in that there is no ‘dumbed down’ feeling about this book or any hint that the writer was aiming for a particular age group. It’s very much a book about what Cally feels and how she sees the world after her mum’s death and the added element of the mysterious grey dog gives it a very Michael Morpurgo-esque feeling – it’ s a grown up kids book. I can see this being used as a lead for PSHE lessons.
I’m very fond of this book – it’s perfect for 9-12 readers who’re looking for something more grown up or thought provoking to read and it’s so easy to follow Cally and get engrossed in the way she sees the world. An excellent read and one that’s sure to make it’s way into school lessons at some point in the future.

Oh, and one more thing… I’m thinking about doing a recording of each of my blog posts for anyone who doesn’t particularly get on with print. I mean, a lot of people are getting into books via audiobooks now when they couldn’t get into reading before, so it makes sense to me that those same people might find an audio review more helpful than a print one too. Anyone reckon this is a good idea, or am I barking up the wrong tree entirely? Anyone prefer audiobooks to print books? Should I start linking to audiobooks too, or eBooks? I’d welcome some opinions.



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