Rez Dogs

by Joseph Bruchac (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

****Four starred reviews!****

From the U.S.'s foremost Indigenous children's author comes a middle grade verse novel set during the COVID-19 pandemic, about a Wabanaki girl's quarantine on her grandparents' reservation and the local dog that becomes her best friend

Malian loves spending time with her grandparents at their home on a Wabanaki reservation. She's there for a visit when, suddenly, all travel shuts down. There's a new virus making people sick, and Malian will have to stay with her grandparents for the duration.

Everyone is worried about the pandemic, but Malian knows how to keep her family and community safe: She protects her grandparents, and they protect her. She doesn't go outside to play with friends, she helps her grandparents use video chat, and she listens to and learns from their stories. And when Malsum, one of the dogs living on the rez, shows up at their door, Malian's family knows that he'll protect them too.

Told in verse inspired by oral storytelling, this novel about the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the ways Malian's community has cared for one another through plagues of the past, and how they keep caring for one another today.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Bruchac (Peacemaker), who is Abenaki, pens a spare novel-in-verse that richly addresses an array of subjects, including Wabanaki legends and beliefs, residential schools, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the difficulties of online schooling with insecure Wi-Fi. Eighth grader Malian is quarantining with her grandparents after a short visit to their Penacook reservation is extended indefinitely due to shelter-in-place restrictions. Malian deeply misses her Boston-based parents but absorbs her grandparents' stories--including how social services forcibly removed Malian's mother from her parents to be adopted by a white family. When Malian finds a hound outside her door, one with white spots above its eyes that the Penacook people call a "four-eyed dog," she names him Malsum, Wabanaki for wolf. As Malsum becomes Malian's closest companion, Bruchac showcases how rez dogs are integral to Native community: "We humans were lucky/ they chose to live with us./ Or maybe it was the other way around--that we were the ones who chose/ to live with them." Employing the third-person perspective, Bruchac intricately interweaves past and present stories, displaying how Native mistreatment has been cyclical with a deft touch in this rewarding intergenerational narrative. Ages 8-12. (June)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-8--Malian's weekend trip to visit her grandparents, who live on a reservation, lasted much longer than anticipated. While her parents were sheltering in place in Boston, Malian, an eighth grade Penacook girl, was trying to keep herself and her grandparents safe from COVID-19. In this verse novel, Bruchac takes a look at life in lockdown through the eyes of Malian, who copes with boredom, isolation, and the need to find her place. She befriends a dog, whom she names Malsum, meaning wolf. Like other dogs on the reservation, Malsum, unlike city dogs, is free to roam. Though it isn't always easy to make responsible choices like not seeing friends and trying to catch up on school assignments despite spotty connectivity, Malian finds that Malsum's friendship helps even if he can't solve everything. Many readers will connect with Malian's experience. In addition, the text provides a dose of history, including an introduction to residential schools, relocation, forced sterilization, and more contemporary issues such as racial justice and the disproportionate way that COVID-19 spread in marginalized communities. VERDICT A contemporary novel in verse that deftly handles weighty issues and provides readers a story they can connect with during a pandemic, with a dose of hope for the future.--Monisha Blair, formerly at Rutgers Univ., NJ

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Rez Dogs

★ "Hidden throughout this moving novel in verse, old stories are discovered like buried treasures."—Kirkus, starred review

★ "Bruchac intricately interweaves past and present stories . . . in this rewarding intergenerational narrative."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ Deftly handles weighty issues and provides readers a story they can connect with . . . [A] dose of hope for the future.—School Library Journal, starred review

★ "Story telling is an important part of culture, and Bruchac is a masterful storyteller who weaves culture with narrative.—School Library Connection, starred review

"With this gentle book, Bruchac offers children another story to expand their worlds and hearts."—Booklist

Joseph Bruchac
Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac are a father-son storytelling pair. They share a deep commitment to the preservation of the Abenaki Indian culture and traditions, which is part of their heritage. Joseph is the award-winning author of more than 120 books for children and adults. James is not only an author, but also a wilderness survival expert. They both live in Greenfield Center, New York.

Jeff Newman is the author and illustrator of many books for kids, including Hippo! No, Rhino; The Boys; and Hand Book. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and son.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
June 20, 2021

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