I love a good dog story, and was delighted to find a terrific dog heroine (and no, she doesn't die at the end!) in this new historical fiction perfect for middle schoolers by debut children's novelist Randi Barrow. Don't forget to check The Fourth Musketeer tomorrow for a fascinating interview with Randi!
Set in Russia at the end of World War II, this page-turner opens as thirteen-year old Mikhail finds a dying soldier and his beautiful German shepherd in the forest near his house. When the soldier doesn't make it, the family is faced with a dilemma--what to do with his dog, Zasha? The Germans were so hated by the Russians at the end of the war that German dogs were shot in the street out of vengeance, and Mikhail and his family decide to hide Zasha to save her life.
Dogs of any kind or breed were a rarity in the Soviet Union right after the war--many had starved to death or been killed in combat after being trained to blow up German tanks. The Russian army has realized that it needs dogs after all, and Zasha is in constant danger from armed dog thieves looking for dogs to sell on the black market, a nosy neighbor girl who secretly craves a dog for herself, and a Russian soldier who is charged with breeding a new Russian superdog at a nearby farm. Mikhail and his family fall desperately in love with the loving, smart, and loyal Zasha. They've lost so much in the cruel war, including Mikhail's papa, who's still missing--will they lose Zasha too?
This is a fast-moving adventure story that will have a broad appeal to both boys and girls; we can't help but fall in love with Zasha, and empathize with her new family. Nothing is simple in wartime, including innocent dogs, who were trained as vicious guard dogs and made to sacrifice themselves in battle. But we also see how Zasha has an incredible healing effect on this family, whose members have suffered during the war.
|Black Russian Terrier|
A great read-along for this book would be Cynthia Kadohata's Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam (Atheneum, 2007), the story of a young soldier's bond with his bomb-sniffing dog in the Vietnam war.
Giveaway information: Scholastic has generously donated a copy of Saving Zasha for one of my lucky readers--to enter to win, please leave a comment below with your e-mail and the title of your favorite dog book (for kids or adults!) The winner will be chosen by random number generator on March 20, 2011.