Review Detail

Kids Fiction 383
Teaching dogs to dance
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Ariel has a difficult home life in her Blue Ridge Mountain home in Virginia. It's not because of economics; her father is older, educated, and well-to-do. However, her mother, a former Apple Blossom Parade princess, does not appreciate Ariel's keen mind and love of music. Instead, she focuses on the fact that Ariel is not conventionally pretty like her sister, Gloria. As preparations for the parade ramp up, Ariel also has to deal with the fact that her older half brother George is deployed in Afghanistan. She misses him and his support, and worries about his fate. When she is wandering in the woods one day, Ariel gets caught in a storm and saved by a dog, who takes her to a cabin. There, the two meet a vet who also served in Afghanistan, Sergeant Josie. Ariel knows her mother won't allow her to have a dog, so asks for Josie's help, since she was a canine handler. The dog, named Duke, is a big help to Ariel, and she decides to train the dog to dance. This escalates into a caper with Gloria's former boyfriend, Marcus, that involves breaking dogs out of a local shelter, hiding them, and dressing them up in Gloria's clothing to be on an unregistered parade float. Will Ariel be able to make peace with her family?
Good Points
This was such a vivid description of spring in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I could smell those apple blossoms. Very atmospheric! Ariel's family dynamics are interesting, and her friendship with Sergeant Josie is touching. I especially appreciated the unfortunate but illuminative scene where Josie is targeted by people who want her to "go back to her country"; she's from Puerto Rico. Teaching Duke to dance was fun, which nicely balances out her well warranted anxiety about George. I was also glad to see that the father was described as older when his involvement in Vietnam protests was mentioned.

The characters are all interesting and well developed. Ariel is outspoken and acerbic, and clearly knows that her mother is playing favorites. While it was fun to watch her get into highjinks with Marcus, I was worried about the dogs. The mother's behavior was inexcusable, which will delight young readers, and it was good to see that the sister does come around a bit and treat Ariel better.

I loved this author's Annie Between the States, Hamilton and Peggy, Suspect Red, and especially Under a War-Torn Sky (2001). It's great to see an author embrace so many different kinds of stories, but tie them all to a specific location. This is similar to Sorosiak's I, Cosmo, when it comes to working with dogs and teaching them to dance. The songs seemed to be a little outdated for today's students, but this might be a good book for an intergenerational read because of that!
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