Bobbie Pyron, I was expecting a cutesy story of a young boy and his dogs. Boy was I wrong. Instead, I read a story about a young boy with incredible courage and strength. Bobbie Pyron took the true story of Ivan Mishukov, and turned it into an adventurous, emotional, and heart-breaking piece of fiction.
In The Dogs of Winter, five-year-old Ivan Andreovich lives in a bubble. His mother is his whole world. He enjoyed watching her cook and clean. At night, Ivan cherished the moments when his mother read to him at night from a book of fairy tales. Theirs was a peaceful life, until he came along. Ivan's mother met a man, a rather evil man. He wants Ivan gone. He doesn't like Ivan. The feeling is mutual, Ivan just wants this man to go away. Ivan doesn't get his wish, instead this sweet little boy has his life turned upside down. His mom disappears and Ivan is abandoned on the streets of Moscow.
Alone and scared, Ivan clings to the memories of his mother. He clings to the good times. He clings to the memory of her in a red coat. He clings to a single black button from that precious red coat. Everywhere he goes, Ivan is looking for his mother and hoping she is wearing that red coat. He misses his mother, and knows she is missing him. He asks every person on the street if they've seen his mother. Ivan is lost literally and figuratively. He needs help. Who will help him? Who can he trust?
Help comes in the form of a group of street kids. They know how to steal and hustle. They spend their nights huddled under benches in the warm train stations. The more time Ivan spends with them, the less he feels like himself. His mother taught him to be respectful and not to steal, but that's what Ivan has to do to survive. The memories of his mother are also starting to fade. What did she look like? What did she sound like? Does she remember what he looks like? He's not even Ivan anymore, he has become just another street kid. Kids who most of the time are invisible to the public.
Ivan doesn't stay with these kids for long. There's too much fighting going on. There isn't much trust within the group. Instead, Ivan finds solace in a pack of dogs. The dogs don't get angry at him. The dogs don't judge him like the people on the street. The dogs take care of him emotionally and they watch over him. Now that his mother has become a distant memory, the dogs are the closest thing to having an actual family.
As the weeks, months, and years go by this young boy goes from being sweet, innocent Ivan to the wild "Dog Boy." He doesn't remember what it feels like to sleep in a bed, brush his teeth, take a bath, or eat at a table like a normal boy. He is no longer "normal" by society's standards. Normal for him is living in abandoned shacks, hollowed out trees, or on trains. Normal for him his begging strangers for money. Normal for him is dodging the police and the nuns who want to put him in an orphanage. Normal for him is digging through the trash for food. Normal for him is caring for the dogs when they're sick and playing with them in the woods when they're healthy.
While I was reading the book, I was starting to believe that the streets and the dogs were the best option. He could languish for years in an orphanage. The streets offer him the opportunity to be free without rules. But every time the winter rolls around, you can't help but feel sorry for this young boy. He needs more loving and tenderness than a pack of dogs can provide. Sometimes you forget that the main character is just a child. He develops the maturity and resourcefulness of someone much older.
Ivan's relationships with the dogs are at the heart of the book. You start to wonder if they can survive without the other. Whenever they get separated, Ivan and the dogs always find their way back to each other. Ivan and his dogs can communicate with each other with sounds, gestures, and emotions. The dogs know when he is hungry, happy, or sad and vice versa. I loved this book. I loved the writing. I loved the characters. The book is adventurous, engaging, happy, sad, and an overall emotional roller coaster all rolled into one.
Rating: O.M.G. !!!
Note: I received the book from the publisher (Scholastic) as part of a blog tour with Virtual Author Book Tours.com