SHEEP by Valerie Hobbs, 115 pp, Reading Level 3

First published 2/19/2010, SHEEP is a MUST read, even for those of you who, like me, are squeamish when it comes to animal stories. The hardships faced by most literary animals, the ones who haven't been anthropomorphized, are usually more than I can bear. But, in SHEEP, Valerie Hobbs balances the realities of the life of a homeless dog with a memorable journey and kind humans along the way.

SHEEP by Valerie Hobbs is such a perfect book for third graders. It has a great, catchy cover, It is relatively short with short chapters and it has a great cast of characters. In fact, SHEEP feels like a book that the fabulous picture book author and illustrator (as well as former story editor for many classic animated Disney films) Bill Peet might have written had he decided to pen a chapter book. SHEEP has everything a good Bill Peet book has, the circus, trains, a quasi-hermit and scruffy little boy.

When SHEEP begins, Jack is a pup living on a sheep ranch in California just waiting for the day that he can join his dad and Old Dex, the lead dog, and herds the sheep. He gets a little taste for what he was born to do before it is all lost. The ranch catches fire and the pups are sold off. Jack finds himself living in a pet store. From there, his journey is similar to Squirrel's in Ann M Martin's excellnet book, A Dog's Life. Jack goes from one home to the next, one human after another, looking for food, companionship and maybe even a home. And always looking for sheep. Jack's driving force is he need to herd. He gets this chance, sort of, for the time that he finds himself traveling with the Goat Man. A most interesting character, especially for a book written at this level, the Goat Man is an old gentleman who has a team of goats that pull his little caravan up and down the West Coast. The Goat Man spends his days thinking and his evenings philosophizing, sharing his ideas with Jack and sometimes writing them down. He doesn't earn a living and he doesn't seem to need anything more than what he has. When he doesn't wake up one morning, Jack has to decide what to do - with the goats and the Goat Man. Eventually, Jack is captured by the pound and adopted out to a cruel circus master, but he does not suffer him for too long. SHEEP has a very sweet ending, one in which Jack is able to use what he has learned along the way to help a boy named Luke, whom he follows home because he lives at the Good Shepherd Home for Boys, not realizing it is an orphanage.

SHEEP is an excellent book and should appeal to boys and girls alike. Hobbs has done a wonderful job taking what could be a sad and brutal story and softening it while at the same time maintaining a depth and meaning that makes SHEEP hard to forget.

A Dog's Life and the companion, Everything for a Dog, are both by Ann M Martin. A Dog's Life is the story of Squirrel, a dog born to a stray mother, and the journey she goes on when she is separated from her mother and brother. Everything for a Dog is narrated by Bone, Squirrel's brother, as well as the two boys who come into his life. These books make a great step up from Sheep as the page count and reading level are both a bit higher.

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