________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 2. . . .September 15, 2017


Sam in Winter.

Edward van de Vendel. Illustrations by Philip Hopman. Translated by David Colmer.
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Foundation Distributing Inc.), 2017.
149 pp., hardcover, $17.99.
ISBN 978-0-8028-5487-2.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4



But toward the end of the afternoon something strange happened, something Kix had noticed a few times before. All of a sudden, Sam stopped playing. He just stood there staring at the snow. Or at the sky. Sam was still strong and kind, but if you looked closely, you could see something pale in his eyes. No, not in his eyes—behind them.

His friends kept throwing snowballs, but Kix went over to Sam and knelt down on the ground in front of him. His knees got cold, but that didn’t matter.

Kix pulled off his mittens and petted his wonder dog. Sam had a very broad forehead—you could almost rest a plate on it. Every morning before breakfast, Kix would go outside, and then Sam would lower his head a little and press that big forehead against one of Kix’s legs. That meant, Pet me, Pet me, Kix.

Sam, Sam, Sammy boy,” Kix said, scratching under Sam’s ears the way he always did. First one side, then the other. Often Sam would start groaning, he loved it so much.

But now he stayed quiet.


Sam, the old white mountain dog, wandered into nine-year-old Kix’s life one summer day and endeared himself to the family. That tale was told in A Dog Like Sam; this book is a translation of the sequel. Now it’s winter, and Sam is acting strangely. He stares into space, suddenly stops playing, whimpers or seems lethargic. Kix is worried and tries to figure out what’s ailing Sam. Then one morning, Sam disappears. Thorough searches turn up nothing. The family considers the idea that Sam might be experiencing symptoms like human dementia, perhaps thinking about his former farm home. Kix talks Grandpa into a trip to Sam’s original home where they talk to Flint, the man who owned Sam but was thought to have abused him. Now Flint helps Kix find Sam who has, in fact, wandered back to the farm and is injured. In the process, the two of them discover the special bond of communication they both share with the dog. But it is the boy’s devotion and persistence that saves Sam’s life and his empathy which enables him to accept that he must let go of the dog he’s come to love.

     Kix is a highly likable, well-rounded character whom we meet through his musings about the dog as they grew to know one another over the summer. The dog has become the centre of Kix’s life. His deep feelings for Sam came naturally from the fact that the dog chose to live with him, and because he’s convinced he can read the dog’s thoughts. His close observations of Sam alert him to odd behaviours before the dog disappears. Kix’s worries that his lost dog is possibly in danger consume his waking hours and invade his dreams, deepening themes of empathy and altruism. The plot moves methodically, driven by Kix’s fears as each theory for Sam’s disappearance is examined and discarded, and tension increases as Kix reacts in distress. Through it all, though, Kix’s persistence in the belief that Sam will be found solidifies the reader’s bond with Kix and keeps the pages turning. The boy’s relationship with Grandpa is a key element, with the old man emerging as an especially appealing character through his ability to help Kix understand the puzzling effects of aging on both animals and pets.

     Finding the dog is a climactic point but doesn’t resolve the whole conflict. Beyond that moment of rescue, the reader is held in suspense as the fate of the dog is decided. By now, the reader is firmly in Kix’s camp as the last dramatic scenes unfold. Even though Kix comes to believe he must give up the dog, it turns out his determined actions have moved everyone else to realize the dog now belongs to, and wants to spend his remaining years with, his new young friend. The author takes the reader step by step through Kix’s thought process as the facts become clear, and he reaches a new maturity.

     The setting of the final search—the old farm site in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies where Sam had grown up as a guard dog—becomes a character in itself: “It was crackly cold, but the wind was holding off and the snowflakes were falling straight down as if they were leaking out of the sky…. All that snow lit up the night...the sounds were soft, and the light seemed to come from left and right and above and below all at once...” The quiet and deep cold of the night enhances tension as Kix stubbornly refuses to give up, focusing only on the welfare of his pet as they search the outbuildings and follow paths into the woods. Simple ink sketches bring the personalities to life and reveal the drama of the wintry night.

     For pet lovers who have experienced that special relationship with an animal, this emotionally charged story will be memorable. The Note from the Author in the last pages tells how the story was inspired by the real “Sam” who turned up at the family home one day.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

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