Review by Joan Schweighardt
The narrator in BELLE’S STAR is Belle, a smallish, reddish, farm dog bred to herd cattle and hence referred to as a “heeler.” We learn right away, in this 125-page book written for children ages 10 through 12, that Belle is perceptive, curious, and nervous in new situations—which is to say that kids who buy the book will relate to her immediately. Moreover, she is an awesome storyteller, which is no less than one would expect from a creation of award-winning novelist like Connie Gotsch.
Belle was badly mistreated on the farm where her life began. When we meet her, the farmer and his nasty son are in the process of taking her for a one-way ride in their truck. They kick her out at a gas station and hope never to see her again. But she is rescued by a girl named Darcy and Darcy’s aunt Ellen, who happen to be at the station and are witness to what the reader hopes will be Belle’s final incident of abuse.
Belle is adorable, and the reader understands that her rescuers are bound to fall in love with her and try to help her out. The suspense comes from wondering whether or not Belle will decide to accept their help—or even recognize it as that. Having known nothing but bullying during her life on the farm, it will take more than a bath and a few doggie treats for Belle to learn to be trusting. And ultimately it will take an incident in which Darcy is abused for Belle to learn her first lesson in loyalty.
Connie Gotsch has succeeded in creating a world from a dog’s point of view. Buildings are “dens,” rooms are “burrows,” doorways are “holes,” and people are described more often by their smell than how they look. Sounds and textures are also amplified. There are other dogs and even a cat in the story, and their friendly and sometimes foolish communication is reminiscent of the animals in the 1993 hit movie “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.”
BELLE’S STAR is a page-turner, full of adventure and snappy dialogue and even a subplot concerning Darcy and her uncle. But it is also a book full of valuable lessons. Young (and older) readers will learn some good tips about how to treat animals, which is sure to come in handy especially for those who opt to adopt pets from shelters. But there are also some good tips about how people should treat one another. Great illustrations within and a beautiful painting of Darcy and Belle on the cover round out a wonderful reading experience.
BELLE’S STAR is reviewed by Joan Schweighardt, the author of GUDRUN’S TAPESTRY and other novels. Joan and her husband count themselves lucky to share their lives with Emma, a sweet, even-tempered shepherd/chow mix adopted last year at the age of eight, and Baby Roy, a six-month old Boxer/lab who exudes so much joy that he is regularly forgiven for his backyard digging excursions.
Written by Connie Gotsch
Illustrated by John Cogan
Trade paper: $7.99
Kinkajou Press/Artemesia Publishing
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