Based on a true story, Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron tells of five-year-old Ivan, a street kid in Russia who formed a close relationship with a pack of feral dogs. While this young adult novel is well-written and full of enough adventure to appeal to even the most reluctant reader, at about the halfway point, the heart-breaking events portrayed also became too much for me to bear. Dogs of Winter is a book I both love and hate.
The symbiotic relationship between Ivan and the dogs is touching and beautiful. One cold day a large brown and black dog presses next to Ivan as he huddles next to a steam gate in the sidewalk. Ivan holds his breath, wondering if the dog will eat him. Instead the dog simply curls up at Ivan’s feet with a sigh and closes his eyes. As the two lay there, the people hurrying past them begin to leave coins. Soon, there is enough money for Ivan to buy two hot potatoes. As Ivan eagerly eats his purchases, the dog begins to lead Ivan away from the busy streets. He leads him to a hole in the wall, where there is a starving mother and her puppies. Pryon proved herself a master of dog stories with A Dog’s Way Home and shows herself adept once again here. Ivan and the dogs give each other warmth and food, protect one another from danger, and become a family. In this regard, Dogs of Winter is an absolute must-read story for dog lovers.
Except… Dogs of Winter will also make you weep. In her historically-based book, Pyron brings to the forefront the horrible plight of homeless children, of which there are over 100 million worldwide, and that of homeless animals. When Ivan’s mother loses her job, the man she lives with hits her. And then one day she is gone. The man tries to bring Ivan to an orphanage, but instead Ivan runs away. He is rescued by a group of street kids. Only even they do not truly love him. They want to use his cuteness to bring in money and food and clothes. One day the police show up and Ivan mistakenly thinks that they’ll be kind to him. After all, his mother always taught him that police helped those who are lost. Instead the police spat in his face, tossed him over their shoulder, and otherwise abused him. When Ivan finds the pack of feral dogs, his life begins to have hope. When even this hope begins to get crushed, I started to bawl. Sad stories, especially those that are true, are hard for me to handle. In this regard, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Dogs of Winter.
When Pyron first read Ivan’s story in an article, she immediately wanted to tell his story. Yet she also felt daunted by the task of telling this story of a homeless boy from Russia who formed a close relationship with feral dogs. She ended up having to take breaks from the writing of Dogs of Winter. About halfway through my reading of her intense tale, I had to stop and instead read books about how to change the world. Pryon considers Dogs of Winter the book she is most proud to have written. She has good reason to, in that it’s well-crafted and inspirational. However, as with Bambi and Old Yeller and other similar books, one time is probably the most I can ever read it.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
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