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How to Steal a Dog Hardcover – March 20, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 3-7– Georgina and her family have been living in their car since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment. Mama is working two jobs to earn rent money and trying hard to hold things together. Desperate to help out, Georgina decides to steal a dog for the reward money, laying out the details of her plan in a diary. However, the dog's owner can't afford to offer a reward, and Georgina ends up feeling sorry for the lonely woman. The girl also makes friends with another adult named Mookie, a kindhearted wanderer who is camped out at the abandoned house where she is keeping the dog. He shares his wisdom and offers help, whether she wants it or not. Georgina's narrative is honest and deeply touching, as she recounts how she and her brother try to survive their circumstances. Washing off in a gas station restroom and turning in grease-stained homework become fairly normal occurrences. Readers will identify with the agony and the embarrassment caused by being different, as well as Georgina's struggles with her conscience. The book's endearing humor smoothes out the more poignant moments, and the unfolding events will keep youngsters totally engaged. The gem in the story is Mookie, who manages to sparkle even when sadness threatens to devour the moment. Though set inside a heavy topic, this novel's gentle storytelling carries a theme of love and emphasizes what is really right in the world.–Robyn Gioia, Bolles School, Ponte Vedra, FL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

One day Georgina has a home, a best friend, and plenty to eat. The next, she's living in a car with her mother and brother. Carrying on as usual isn't possible: washing up in a restaurant bathroom, doing homework by flashlight, losing her friend. Mom works two jobs, but it's not enough, so impatient Georgina decides to steal a dog, hoping to collect a reward. She picks her furry victim and makes careful plans--but she doesn't count on her conscience. In stripped-down, unsentimental prose, Georgina tells her own story, her words making clear her vulnerability and heartbreak as well as her determination and pride. It's puzzling why Mom doesn't seek outside help for her desperate family, and the appearance of wise Mookie, a sort of transient deus ex machina, verges on excess. Yet in the end, this is truly Georgina's story, and to O'Connor's great credit, it's Georgina herself who figures out what's right and does it. The myriad effects of homelessness and the realistic picture of a moral quandary will surely generate discussion. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 700L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: Texas Bluebonnet Master List 2008-2009
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374334978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374334970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,241,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"How to Steal a Dog" by Barbara O'Connor surprised me, not simply because it covered serious subjects of separation, homelessness, and theft, but also because of how Barbara O'Connor tackled issues. Dark problems are not often explored in children's books. When they are, they rarely feel so real to life.

Georgina's father walked out on the family, leaving them without enough money to continue to rent an apartment. His departure is never explained, but the ache left in Georgina's heart is succinctly summarized in one heartbreaking sentence: "I wanted my daddy to come on home and change everything back to the way it was before." The embarrassment she feels about living in a car is also apparent in another compact sentence: "If there was ever a time when I wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole, it was when I turned around and saw Luanne looking at me and that car and all."

While the book revolves around a homeless family, it never becomes the equivalent of an after-school special designed to raise reader awareness about the plight of the homeless. It also never stoops to using their homelessness as a backdrop for the tale. Chapter after chapter, we feel the impact of homeless life: The family lives out of a car; They need to change locations regularly to avoid being arrested; They eat whatever free meals the mom can scrounge from the restaurant where she works; Their clothes and hair become scuffier in appearance. In the middle of this misery, Georgina sees a reward poster for a lost dog, which inspires her idea to steal a dog: After all, a $500 reward would provide the family with a home. The book revolves around her putting this plan in action.

This is a children's book, which means we know that Georgina will probably not end up in prison.
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Format: Paperback
I really liked this one. Georgina is desperate; it seems like her overwhelmed mother will never keep her promises to her children, after their father leaves and they are forced to live in their car. Georgina is tired of sleeping in the car, never having her homework, fearing that her classmates will find out. So she naively hatches her plan--steal a dog, then claim the reward. She is too young and hopeful to imagine what could go wrong, but it all does. And she struggles with guilt--for lying, for hurting those she starts to care about: the dog Willie and Carmella, his owner. As she struggles with the problems she has created, and talks with a homeless man who tries to help her, with his help she sees that "Sometimes the trail you leave behind is more important then the path ahead of you." Yes, there are troubling moral issues here, but that's an opportunity to discuss: is it wrong to act badly under bad circumstances? What else could she have done? What would you have done in her place? As a librarian and a mom, I can see a lot of potential for considering people less fortunate than most of us, and for talking about choices and consequences. I plan to read this one to my three kids, ages 8-12.
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Format: Paperback
"How to Steal a Dog" is such a catchy little title with such a cute little dog posed against the cheeriest of colors that I assumed humor would jump off the pages. Not so. Actually, I initially missed that dog bone tied to a string. All is not as it appears. Be forewarned: This is a sad book. Even the conclusion, which reverses the terrible existence of one family's homelessness, is sad. But that's the point: The numbing reality of too many Americans is homelessness.

Another numbing reality is the woman whose husband runs off, leaving her with the children and all the responsibility. An already poor circumstance soon renders a woman on the streets, or in this case, living in their car. Georgina, the character through whose viewpoint we access the story, is so embarrassed that she won't tell her best friend. When she does, the friend deserts her, treating her, more or less, like an untouchable.

Georgina and her brother pretty much fend for themselves because the mother works two jobs. To deflect suspicion about a parked car in one place too long, the mother parks in a new spot each morning before she goes off to work and the children to school.

To help raise enough money for a real home--an apartment, house, whatever, it doesn't matter--Georgina makes a plan to dog-nap a hapless canine and get $500 in reward money. Her thinking is to find a dog whose owner simply cannot do without that companion and is willing to pay reward (think: ransom, extortion, rescue) money. She and her brother walk around until they find what appears to them to be a really nice house, the only one, in a run-down neighborhood. Yes, I thought that, too--What's wrong with this picture? One large house in a declining neighborhood.
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Format: Hardcover
Lure `em in with a cute dog and then hit `em hard and fast with a realistic story about how it feels to be homeless. It's the old bait n' switcheroo. Not that Barbara O'Connor's book, "How to Steal a Dog" plays anything but fair with her young audiences. After all, the first line in this book is the incredibly memorable, "The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car." Bam! Right in the kisser. There's not a child alive, boy or girl, who isn't going to want to know more after those twenty-four words hit the page. O'Connor has created a nice little novel here with an ending that could have stood a little more padding. But while I feel that there were a couple off moments here and there, on the whole this is a new take on the question of whether or not a person can justify a wrong if they see no other way out of a predicament.

First of all, Georgina is not a bad person. If you saw her in school you might think she was a kind of unkempt and dirty person, but that's just because she, her little brother Toby, and their mom have been living in their car ever since their dad up and left them. It hasn't been easy for Georgina, of course. Her best friend Luanne has been distancing herself lately. The family's never safe and Georgina's having a really hard time getting her schoolwork done. If only there were some way she could get a lot of money for the rent of a new apartment. Then Georgina sees a MISSING poster for a dog offering $500 and it all comes together. Of course! The perfect solution! All she needs to do is find a rich dog, steal it, wait for the reward posters to go up, and then collect the money for her family. But every perfect plan, no matter how well executed, is bound to run into some unexpected mishaps along the way.
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