Allison's Book Bag

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

Posted on: June 7, 2010

“How to Steal a Dog” by Barbara O’Connor surprised me, not simply because it covered serious subjects of separation, homelessness, and theft, but also because of how Barbara O’Connor tackled issues. Dark problems are not often explored in children’s books. When they are, they rarely feel so real to life.

Georgina’s father walked out on the family, leaving them without enough money to continue to rent an apartment. His departure is never explained, but the ache left in Georgina’s heart is succinctly summarized in one heartbreaking sentence: “I wanted my daddy to come on home and change everything back to the way it was before.” The embarrassment she feels about living in a car is also apparent in another compact sentence: “If there was ever a time when I wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole, it was when I turned around and saw Luanne looking at me and that car and all.”

While the book revolves around a homeless family, it never becomes the equivalent of an after-school special designed to raise reader awareness about the plight of the homeless. It also never stoops to using their homelessness as a backdrop for the tale. Chapter after chapter, we feel the impact of homeless life: The family lives out of a car; They need to change locations regularly to avoid being arrested; They eat whatever free meals the mom can scrounge from the restaurant where she works; Their clothes and hair become scuffier in appearance. In the middle of this misery, Georgina sees a reward poster for a lost dog, which inspires her idea to steal a dog: After all, a $500 reward would provide the family with a home. The book revolves around her putting this plan in action.

This is a children’s book, which means we know that Georgina will probably not end up in prison. What we don’t know is whether Georgina will figure out that stealing is not a good idea. Yet the book never becomes a tract against theft. Georgina struggles with her conscience when she first meets the owner of the dog she stole, later when she decides to tie the dog up at an abandoned house until she can return it for a reward, and many more times throughout the book. In the end, her life does not suddenly become perfect, but this is all the more satisfying for this is how the book remains real.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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