New Kids and Underdogs

New Kids and Underdogs
Age Range
8+
Release Date
October 25, 2022
ISBN
978-1534496408
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When perpetual new kid Robyn signs up her special needs dogs for agility training, she gets an unexpected lesson in friendship in this funny and moving novel from the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down.

Robyn Kellen has been the new kid six times. She’s practically an expert on the subject and has developed foolproof rules to help her get by: Blend in, don’t go looking for trouble, and move on. Unfortunately, Robyn’s mom has a rule, too: Robyn must do an after-school activity.

When Robyn discovers a dog agility class, she thinks she’s found the perfect thing—but then her dogs, Sundae and Fudge, are rejected from the class. Sundae won’t do anything without Fudge, and Fudge is deaf and blind, and the instructor refuses to change the rules to fit their needs. Luckily, the instructor’s grandson, Nestor—a legend at Robyn’s new school—offers Robyn a deal: If she helps him with math, he’ll train Sundae and Fudge. Problem is, Robyn isn’t so great at math herself, so she’s forced to recruit the class outcast, Alejandra, to help.

Suddenly, Robyn finds herself surrounded by people who do anything but blend in—and sticking to her rules becomes harder than ever. But as Robyn learns how to adapt the rules of agility for Sundae and Fudge, she will find that some rules are worth breaking altogether.

Editor review

1 review
Training dogs... and new classmates
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
Robyn's mother is a biology professor who has been changing jobs every year and moving the two across the country, finally landing in San Luis Opisbo, where she might get tenure if she publishes enough. Robyn spends summers with her father, and is glad to get back to her dogs, Fudge and Sundae. Preparing to be the new kid in school yet again is not as much fun, and fifth grade looks to be a bit daunting. Robyn has made a list of rules, and knows the kids to avoid and the ones to befriend. Alejandra, who has skipped a grade and wears all purple, is "radioactive", and associating with her would make Robyn "radioactive" as well. Lulu and Marshan seem nice, and have more socially acceptable interests, and Robyn hangs out with them even though some of their attitudes annoy her. Forced to do an activity by her mother, Robyn is interested in a local dog agility training program, but the owner, Mrs. Zazueta, thinks that Sundae and Fudge are not suited to the training due to Fudge's poor sight and hearing, and Sundae's anxiety when not with Fudge. Mrs. Z's grandson, Nestor, learns that Robyn has been turned away, but makes her a deal; if she can tutor him and his friend Jonathan in math, he'll teach the dogs. Robyn's math isn't great, but Alejandra offers to add her skills to the pot. Soon, the four area working together and having a great time. It's still a balance to spend time with people she likes and to placate Lulu and Marsahn, but Robyn does her best. The dogs are prospering, but how far can the training go before Mrs. Z finds out?
Good Points
Robyn's grasp of how to fit in to a new school is very mature, and she does a good job following most of her own rules. Lulu and Marshan are interesting characters in that they aren't mean and they don't really do anything horrible, but they do overly sympathize with Robyn and want to hear how horrible things are for her as well as for Fudge. (Who has limited hearing and sight almost exactly the same way my dog does, so I know it's not too bad.) Robyn has a supportive mother and a college aged babysitter, Nivien, and the other children have supportive adults as well, although we do learn that Alejandra's mother has been deported. The dog training details are all very good.

Robyn is in fifth grade, and there are a lot of details about classroom events and playground antics that make this more interesting to elementary students, unlike Margolis' Boys are Dogs (2008) or Stewart's Fetching (2011), which both combine dog training with moer middle school crushes and school settings.

If your reader likes W. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Life books or enjoyed the dog training in Behrens' The Fast and the Furriest and Sorosiak's I, Cosmo, this is a great choice. It also has a good dose of friend drama and explores moving to a new school.
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