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The Leanin' Dog Hardcover – September 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 4–7—Dessa Dean, 11, was a powerless witness as her diabetic mother froze to death when they were caught in an early-winter storm. Since then, she and her father have gone through the motions of normalcy, with him going out daily to check the traps while she stays behind to do the schoolwork he prepares and to fix their meager dinner. But things are not normal: Dessa Dean frequently relives the horror of her mother's death, and she is unable to make herself venture beyond the steps of their isolated Colorado cabin. The week before Christmas, though, an injured dog comes sniffing around. Dessa Dean's initial attempts to befriend it fail: the jittery animal has apparently been abused and keeps her distance. Repeated efforts pay off, but even when the dog allows Dessa Dean to approach her, she remains on edge around the girl's father. As another storm nears, he is having no success with his hunting forays and has little patience for a dog that will only stay inside when the door is open to the frigid air. Dessa Dean is caught between her growing feelings for the animal and her father's concern over their basic survival. This story of an agoraphobic girl and a claustrophobic dog and how they slowly move one another toward hope could have been maudlin, but Nuzum's pacing and spare, poetic narrative create something quite wonderful. The novel will draw comparisons to Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), but it is certainly not a Winn-Dixie wannabe. This is a beautiful story in which friendship and the power of being needed trump despair.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
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From Booklist

Eleven-year-old Dessa Dean lives with her father, a hunter and trapper, in a remote wilderness area. So traumatized by witnessing her mother’s death that she cannot bear to leave the cabin even to use the outhouse, she is plagued by nightmares and tormented by waking “daymares.” She lives a lonely life until a lame, half-starved dog comes to the door. In reaching out to befriend the skittish dog, she begins to think beyond her limitations and takes the first step toward healing. In a convincing first-person narrative, Dessa tells of her frustration with her troubles, her hopes when the dog appears, her determination to bring him into her life, and her slow progress toward that end. Though the plot’s outcome is predictable, readers who enjoy animal stories will no doubt find plenty to like here. A quiet novel from the author of A Small White Scar (2006). Grades 4-7. --Carolyn Phelan

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 960L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Sixth Printing edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061139343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061139345
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,524,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bingo-Karen Haney on October 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
K. A. Nuzum's new book, The Leanin' Dog, tells a first person narrative story about a young girl named Dessa Dean who is eleven years old. The story takes place during the winter in Colorado in the 1930s just before Christmas. Dessa is a lonely child who desperately needs a friend, especially since her mother died. She thinks she will never be happy again. Dessa is trapped. She is a victim of her own mind's fear, the fear of leaving her home, known as agoraphobia. To make it harder, Dessa doesn't want her father to know about this fear. He has enough to deal with.

While Father tries to keep things at home going by keeping the wood pile for the stove for food and warmth, he also tries to help Dessa with her school work. Along with that, he tries really hard to kill some animal for their dinner so that Christmas can be special. As father struggles with these things, Dessa still tries to stop what she calls the daymares and tries to keep Father from finding out about them. When Dessa's ears starts to ache, she knows a period of "losing Mama pain" is beginning. Her ears hurt as her memory takes her back to when her mother died and Dessa's ears had been frostbitten. She was holding her mother in the snow waiting for someone to find them even though their footprints were blotted away by the snowstorm. That horrible time when her mother died in her arms is something Dessa can't forget and therefore, she continues to have these nightmares (daymares) and can't force herself outside the house.

What helps Dessa to deal with the pain and tragedy in her life comes in the form of a canine friend. A stray dog comes into Dessa's life and gives her someone to love again. The dog is just what she needs--a friend.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By SZAA on January 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Leanin' Dog, written by K. A. Nuzum, is another that pulls at a reader's heartstrings, both for the books main character, another lost child that is in desperate need of a friend, and for the dog, another in need of home.

Dessa Dean has been trying to cope with her emotions since her mother died over a month ago, frozen in the snow. She hasn't been able to leave her house since the experience, living her life inside her and her Daddy's tiny cabin, playing the role of housewife. When a stray dog comes calling at the door, terrified, skinny, and injured, Dessa immediately befriends the animal and is given a purpose to move on with her life, through baby steps that both she, her dog, and her father take together.

The Leanin' Dog was filled with beautiful writing and pure emotion that could be felt on every single page. I was cheering Dessa on every time she attempted to get off that front porch and go after the dog and I was hoping her father would be as compassionate about the dog as she was. Such a purely loving story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sherrie Padelford on July 17, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I use this as a read-aloud with my students. I have read it every year for the past 5 years and I never get tired of reading it again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carol on June 25, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A heart warming tale about a friendship between a hurting 11 year old girl and a lonely dog. It is a perfect story for ages 10 and up. The book takes place in Southwest Colorado during the Great Depression and food and supplies are hard to come by. The girl only lives with her father and everything changes when the dog shows up at their front door. Gradually, both friends realize they need one another despite their flaws.
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