Thursday, May 11, 2017

Dirt (review)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make commission from; however, all opinions are my own.*

If you know me in real life you know I'm not just passionate about adults reading, I'm passionate about children's literature as well. I know first hand all it takes to turn a child into a life long reader is finding them the right book at the right time. Oddly enough that was an R.L. Stine book for me. I was a reader before then, but R.L. Stine and his Fear Street series was what turned me into a voracious reader that essentially devoured books faster than my school library could keep up. So I get really excited whenever I have the opportunity to read books geared towards younger readers because I like to share them with my friends at Bryant Elementary, where my children go to school. I know that if I can get just one kiddo as excited about a book as me, I've opened up their entire world.

And this book? This book is a must have.

Dirt - Denise Gosliner Orenstein
Things are hard for eleven-year-old Yonder. Her mother died and her father has sunk into sadness. She doesn't have a friend to her name . . . except for Dirt, the Shetland pony next door. 

Dirt has problems of his own. He's overweight, he's always in trouble, and his owner is the mean Miss Enid, who doesn't have the patience for a pony's natural curiosity. His only friend is Yonder, the scrawny girl next door.  
So when Miss Enid makes the cruel decision to sell Dirt for horse meat, Yonder knows she has to find a way to rescue him. Even if that means stealing Dirt away and sneaking him into her own house. What follows will make you worry, will make you cry, and will ultimately fill you with hope, love, and an unshakable belief in the power of friendship. Especially the four-legged kind. 

An ARC for this book came to me by surprise and I almost just set it aside into the "maybe I'll get to it" pile but something about the book pulled at me. Maybe it's the obese Shetland pony eating a shoe on the cover, maybe it's the main character's unusual name (Yonder), or maybe it's the story of the little girl desperate to feel love that pulled at me. I'm not sure, but the fact that it came in around 215 pages guaranteed it was going to be a fast read, and I had an afternoon set aside for reading, so I picked it up. 

And could not put it down until I was done. 

The story absolutely pulls at you as a parent because I think if we all look hard enough, we all know a Yonder. At every school there is a child that is in desperate need of love and attention, who is overlooked by the adults who should know better, and the adults who do step in don't recognize the entire situation, only what isn't right. I teared up a few times because I just... I wanted to take this poor girl in. She loses her mother, her father becomes an alcoholic because of it and he really does try to do the best for Yonder. After her mother's passing, Yonder seemingly loses all ability to speak, which her father isn't equipped to deal with and the people at school don't even try to help her, they just get frustrated. She's bullied horrifically and teachers and staff are oblivious so she decides she's not going back. 

Cue the entrance of a one eyed, morbidly obese, and filthy Shetland pony. Yonder is convinced that this pony understands the things she says in her head and they become fast friends. One day Yonder discovers that the pony is up for sale, basically for horse meat, and she is absolutely horrified. He may be a total nuisance but this pony deserves a better fate than this. So Yonder crafts up the idea to not only steal the pony but let it live in her bedroom and safe from slaughter. She eventually names him Dirt, discovers he will eat anything, poops a lot, and is terrified of garden hoses. It's like they are kindred spirits that nobody wants around, which explains their connection. But all good things must end, and when it's discovered she not only has a pony living in her bedroom but that her father is barely taking care of her, is an alcoholic and their living conditions are deplorable, combine that with Yonder missing a lot of school because of the bullying she can't tell anyone about because she doesn't speak, it's decided that Yonder must go to foster care. All Yonder can focus on is Dirt, he's her only friend and she knows that without her, Yonder will be mistreated or worse, slaughtered. 

I can't give you any more because you need to read it for yourself. But I'm telling you- amazing book. This absolutely would make a FANTASTIC book choice for a Battle of the Books competition and it would lead to so many great classroom discussions for students. And as educators, it encourages you to take a deeper look at the children who are "problems" or difficult to get to. There is always a reason, we just have to figure out what that one thing is to get a student to open up. In this case it was animals, Yonder felt a connection with animals she couldn't make with humans but it showed that she is capable of compassion and caring. She has an interest and that interest gets her excited about something and moves her beyond the sadness of her mother's death and her less than ideal home life. 

*I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*

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