A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray
A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray
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Annotation: Squirrel, a stray puppy, tells her life story, from her nurturing mother and brother to making her own way in the world, facing busy highways, changing seasons, and humans both gentle and brutal.
Catalog Number: #4818745
Format: Paperback
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition Date: 2007
Pages: x, 182 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-439-71700-0
ISBN 13: 978-0-439-71700-7
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2005005022
Dimensions: 19 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Novels for children rarely follow characters from birth to the threshold of the grave, but then again, most protagonists do not measure their life spans in dog years. In this autobiography of a dog named Squirrel, Newbery Honor Book author Martin imagines how a stray separated from its family in puppyhood finds its way in the world. Martin adjusts to her character's limited viewpoint by combining a retrospective structure--allowing an older, wiser Squirrel to shed light on things not within a puppy's purview--with graceful dog's-eye descriptions of nature, as when a moon waxes from the tiny curl of a cat's claw to a half-closed eye. Less effective are the repetitive plot structure and the concluding focus on Squirrel's twilight years, lending the novel an elegiac tone that may not resonate with its target audience. Readers who love animal survival stories in the tradition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty (1877) and Sheila Burnford's The Incredible Journey (1961) will embrace this for its convincing animal perspective, though some sad events may shock the softer hearted.
Horn Book
A dog journeys from puppyhood through abandonment and uncertainty to eventual contentment in the home of an elderly woman. The novel is perhaps overly faithful to its heroine's peripatetic existence, with a story line that is too tenuous to sustain attention, but the attention to detail is good, as is the consistent adherence to the dog's point of view.
Kirkus Reviews
<p>Following the tradition of other realistic animal stories, this moving account of a stray dog's life experiences is told from the canine perspective. Born in a garden shed, Squirrel and her brother Bone are raised by their mother, who teaches them to hunt and avoid humans. Life is good for the puppies until their mother disappears and doesn't return. When the adventurous Bone sets out into the world, Squirrel follows, afraid to be on her own. But along a busy highway, the puppies are soon separated forever and Squirrel is alone. She manages to survive winter and finds Moon, another stray. The two travel together, raiding garbage cans, eluding dogcatchers and fighting off a band of hungry dogs until Moon is killed by a truck. Alone again, Squirrel stoically moves from town to town, encountering both kind and cruel humans, and aging as the seasons pass. Speaking matter-of-factly, Squirrel accepts life bravely and in the end, finds the loving home she deserves. Heart-wrenching as well as heart- warming. (Fiction. 10-14)</p>
Publishers Weekly

Martin's latest, told from the viewpoint of the title character—a pooch named Squirrel—could well be a primer for potential dog owners: it's a cautionary tale chronicling just about everything not to do as a canine caretaker. Dillon reads with a calm and sympathetic voice, relating how poor Squirrel is abandoned and mistreated by humans, and becomes a scrappy master of survival as she wanders the streets searching for her brother, Bone, from whom she was separated early on in life. Dillon makes certain that listeners will feel the relief and slow-emerging joy Squirrel experiences when at last she finds a kind and loving owner who truly wants—and even needs—her. Though Martin is sometimes inconsistent about what Squirrel does and does not know, listeners will be too hooked on the emotional notes and occasional dramatic moments here to mind. Ages 9-up. (Nov. 2005)

School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-From the comfort of her new home, a dog provides a retrospective narrative of her 10 years as mostly a stray. Squirrel's voice is consistently gentle, even as she describes her surroundings and life-changing events. She describes the circumstances of her birth, and conveys sadness and grief upon the disappearance of her mother, separation from her brother, and fear when fighting mean, starving dogs. Perhaps it is her sweet nature that makes her complacent about life on the run, but it also makes her story less compelling. Avi's The Good Dog (S & S, 2001) and Sarah Clark Jordan's The BossQueen, Little BigBark and the Sentinel Pup (Tricycle, 2004) also have canine narrators but convey many rich, satisfying details about what it smells and feels like to be a dog-details that are missing here. Nevertheless, libraries with dog lovers and Martin fans will want to give this book a home.-Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

Martin's (A Corner of the Universe) winsome novel, written from a canine's point of view, is sure to melt the hearts of animal lovers, as she traces the dog days of a stray named Squirrel from birth to old age. The pooch spends his first few months safe and warm inside a shed. She first ventures out into the larger, more threatening world after her mother disappears and brother Bone decides it is time to explore the woods. From then on, life becomes a battle of survival for Squirrel, scrounging for food, avoiding busy streets and remaining wary of humans who may or may not be friendly. During her life, Squirrel gets separated from her brother, finds and loses a canine companion named Moon, and stumbles upon a handful of temporary owners who do not always prove to be loyal. Besides offering a glimpse of how strays learn to fend for themselves, this saga of a lonely dog delivers a subtle but strong message to potential dog owners, conveying the negative effects of neglecting, ditching or abusing a pet. After following Squirrel's harrowing encounters with freezing temperatures, dangerous enemies and near starvation, readers will utter a sigh of relief when she finds a human who needs Squirrel as much as Squirrel needs her. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)

Voice of Youth Advocates
Squirrel was born in a wheelbarrow along with big brother Bone, the two being named by their mother for things important to her. Without warning one day, Mother trots off and never returns, forcing her puppies to seek another home. The two are taken in by a young couple, but only until the man loses his temper at their bathroom habits, loads them into the car, and tosses them out onto a parking lot. Bone is rescued by a passerby, leaving Squirrel on her own. She learns to survive on garbage-can scraps and to avoid the slow-moving truck containing men who use nets to catch unwary strays. She even finds a traveling companion, Moon. The two are together until Moon is killed by a truck while trying to cross a highway. Squirrel settles into a pattern of wandering, living unnoticed in barns during the winter and in various towns the rest of the year. Once she even becomes a "summer dog" but is abandoned at the end of the season. Life becomes harder as she ages, but she hits the jackpot when she is given a true home by Susan, another "old lady" living independently. The two suit each other perfectly. Despite tragedies, Squirrel maintains a gentle, trusting nature. Martin flavors the story with sweetness but never overly so, moving smoothly between adversity and contentment. The result is an admirable portrayal of life as understood by a very resourceful dog. It is an undemanding read but a thoughtful tale.-Pam Carlson.
Word Count: 36,247
Reading Level: 5.1
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.1 / points: 5.0 / quiz: 101885 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.6 / points:9.0 / quiz:Q37637
Lexile: 870L
Guided Reading Level: S
Fountas & Pinnell: S

Newbery Honor author Ann Martin's "heartwrenching and heartwarming" (Kirkus) dog story with After Words bonus material.

A Dog's Life joins the Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Includes exclusive bonus content!

Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone's summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals, and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.

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