Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O'Connor

Title:  How to Steal a Dog
Author:  Barbara O'Connor
Publisher:  Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
Year:  2007
Pages:  170
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Poverty, Family, Homelessness
Age Range:  4th-6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation. When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she has to do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected. 
O'Connor does an excellent job with the character of Georgina.  Basically a good girl, she contemplates doing things she knows are wrong to help her family get a place to live.  She is not always likable, to be honest.  She is horrible to her mother, who from all appearances was doing everything she could to earn enough money to provide for her children.  But it is clear where her anger comes from-her father's desertion, the loss of her friendships, and her embarrassment over their situation are a lot for a 10 year old girl to handle.

Given the current climate of shaming the poor and blaming them for their own troubles, O'Connor does a fine job of making you feel empathetic towards Georgina, her mother, her brother, and the other characters in the book.  There is Carmella, the women who becomes the victim of the dognapping, and Mookie, the homeless man who Georgina befriends during their time on the street.  Both have important lessons to teach Georgina about love, loss, and how to live in the world in a way that help rather than hinders others.  This book would be a good jumping off point for discussions about poverty, homelessness, and issues around morality and survival.  In the end it is the kindness of others that allows Georgina and her family to find a safe place to live, and in the end that is the biggest lesson learned, both by Georgina and the reader-being kind is always the right thing to be.

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