A Scrabble match. A new school. Pie recipes. A lost coat. The ballet. For young teens and preteens, life is generally eventful. But nothing matters as much as relationships. With the right friends, everything seems possible. And without them, well – no one wants to go there. This fall’s crop of books aimed at readers from age 8 into the early teens offers an absorbing range of adventures – but none greater than the adventure of finding a true friend.
In Hound Dog True (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 160 pp., aimed at ages 9-11), by Linda Urban, protagonist Mattie is scared of just about everything – and worst of all, she’s starting a new school with no notion of how to make friends. But she and her mom have just moved in with her understanding uncle, who is also the school’s custodian.
Hoping to shine as his apprentice, Mattie writes janitorial wisdom in a notebook: days for garbage pickup, don’t leave mops in buckets overnight, pizza day on Tuesdays. When she slips nine washers on her arm like bangle bracelets, her uncle shares these “hound-dog true” words: “Could be one is all you need.” Just like friends.
Urban (author of the terrific 2007 tween novel “A Crooked Kind of Perfect”) weaves bullying, family dynamics, an intimidating teenage girl next door, and a smidgen of janitorial facts into a truly perfect novel. I finished this small gem’s final sentence with a sigh – and then started again at the beginning. I predict young readers will do the same.
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