Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 12
Blood Wounds: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Hound Dog True: Linda Urban

Book: Hound Dog True
Author: Linda Urban
Pages: 160
Age Range: 9-12

9780547558691 Linda Urban's upcoming novel, Hound Dog True, is a lovely little book that I didn't want to see end. I loved Urban's previous middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, and I think that Hound Dog True is even better. 

Hound Dog True takes place during the week before Mattie Breen starts fifth grade in a new school. Her fourth new school. Mattie, a writer, is painfully, heartbreakingly shy, and these new beginnings are torture for her. This time, though, Mattie has a plan. Her Uncle Potluck is the custodian for the new school, and Mattie hopes to be his "custodial apprentice". That way she can spend those lawless times, like lunch and recess, in the safety of her uncle's office.

Learning this, early in the book, I just wanted to reach out and say "Oh, Mattie, that is so not a good idea." But not to worry. Linda Urban has Mattie in excellent hands.

Hound Dog True is a quiet little book. It takes place in just a few settings, in a small town, over just a few days. But the settings, especially Uncle Potluck's country home, and the elementary school where he works, feel real. And the characters feel even more real. Uncle Potluck is quirky and gregarious, rendered shy only by the attractive and understanding Principal Bonnet. Mattie's Mama is loving but flawed, insensitive to the way her frequent moves are damaging her daughter. And Quincy Sweet, a girl introduced as a potential friend for Mattie, is an unexpectedly perfect fit. And Mattie, well, I ached for Mattie. And now that the book is over, I wish I could spend more time with her.

Hound Dog True is written in the third person present tense, which took me a tiny bit of getting used to, but works, and lends immediacy to the story. Mattie keeps detailed accounts of custodial wisdom in her ever-present notebook (along with the occasional story). Her jottings (shown in a different font), add visual interest, and will, I think, make the book more accessible to new readers. Urban even works in a few vocabulary words, gleaned through Mattie's discussions with Uncle Potluck.

But really, for me, it's the tone that makes Hound Dog True special. Kind of a gentle understanding, mixed with playful humor. Here are a couple of examples:

"The bulb is ash gray. Uncle Potluck puts his hat to his heart and bows his head. "Gave its life in service of the illumination of youth," he says.

Mattie smiles. Bows her head like Uncle Potluck. "Thank you, bulb," she says. It's only Uncle Potluck around, so she doesn't mind saying it out loud. (Page 3)

"All day Mattie follows Uncle Potluck close, watching, making notes for the posterity people best she can. A few times she has to set her notebook aside--like for helping set up the playhouse in the kindergarten and for sink-cleaning in the girls' restroom. It is hard writing neat with rubber gloves on." (Page 34)

The phrase Hound Dog True isn't exactly defined, but it seems to mean something true in its essence, even if not necessarily true in terms of mundane facts. And really, isn't that the very definition of a successful novel? Something that may not be technically true, but extends our understanding of the truth? By this measure, Hound Dog True is a complete success.

I highly recommend Hound Dog True for middle grade readers, especially for girls who are a little bit timid or shy. The custodial wisdom, and the quirks of Uncle Potluck, should appeal to boys, too. Teachers, take note: I think that Hound Dog True would make an excellent classroom read-aloud for early in the school year.

Publisher: Harcourt (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.