CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 11 . . . . February 2, 2001
Maggie's stomach did a flip-flop. What if she did something wrong? But Shine seemed glad to have her company and, when Maggie gave the arm wave that sent her on patrol, she took off like a little blur, then returned to sit panting at Maggie's feet. Sometimes Shine would wrinkle her lips and show her teeth.Maggie expects to be totally bored when she must accompany her parents on their job as sheepherders in the BC mountains. And her preoccupied parents don't seem to understand her feelings about missing her friends and the usual summer activities. But an unexpected friendship with Shine, one of the rented sheepdogs, changes things. Shine takes on the role of guardian to Maggie as well as the sheep in the face of threats from wild animals and weather. Before the summer is over, Maggie finds herself enjoying her experience and dreams of keeping the dog afterwards.
This early novel directed to fourth grade readers has an authentic setting and a fresh and interesting scenario. Action and conflicts abound: Maggie exhibits typical early adolescent moodiness and reluctance to accept a new situation amid frequent miscommunications with her parents; the parents themselves are occasionally at odds; dramatic moments with a bear, a cougar and storms are well-spaced throughout. The issue that becomes the focus of the plot, Maggie's wish to keep Shine at the end of the summer, is the cause of some friction throughout the story.
Maggie's development is shown through a gradual change of outlook as she learns the skills of sheepherding, gains confidence in dog handling and comes to appreciate the wild setting. However, her decision to disobey her parents and venture off on a dangerous, solo mountain climbing trek on the last day may leave the reader wondering if she has indeed become more responsible.
There are some inconsistencies in the parents' characters as well. One example follows Maggie's return from that hike. Her mother begins to reprimand her: "I was so worried. You were gone so long! What on earth did you think you were doing? Where did you go? You know you're not supposed to wander off." But she is easily distracted by Maggie's excuse about losing track of time and by another plea to keep Shine. Mom's tone changes abruptly: "You've grown up and you've learned so much. Your dad and I are really proud of you."
Despite some unevenness in characters, there is enough here--well-presented elements of suspenseful adventure, animals and the unique setting--to attract independent readers to this story.
A former teacher-librarian, Gillian Richardson, who lives in BC, is a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.
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