Everything for a Dog
This realistic fiction by Ann M. Martin is published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan.
Everything for a Dog is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Three story lines run parallel to each other in this story of love and loss. Bone, a dog, narrates the first story, telling of his earliest memories of being a stray along with his mother and sister, Squirrel. One day his mother doesn't return, and Bone and his sister wander away from the shed they lived in.
A man finds them, but eventually he dumps them at a shopping mall where a woman rescues Bone. She leaves Squirrel behind. When the woman finds she can't take care of her new baby, return to her job and mind a dog, she gives Bone to her father, Franklin. Before long, Franklin is forced to move into assisted living where pets aren't allowed, and the ensuing neglect prompts Bone to become a stray again.
Eventually Bone encounters a boy who befriends him by leaving food out for him. The boy also trains him a little. One day Bone gets caught in a hunter's trap and is rescued by the boy and his father. The man and boy take Bone to the vet, who treats him. They return for Bone after he heals and take him home.
The second story centers on a soon-to-be fifth-grader named Charlie Elliot. His family is grieving the recent death of his brother, RJ. Though RJ was only 13, the small town of Lindenfield treasured him because of his athletic ability and scholastic abilities — a boy who one day would put their town on the map. The story of RJ's death turns him into a heroic figure. People recount how he fell from a tree to his death. At the time, he had been trying to rescue Charlie's homemade kite. The result is that Charlie feels responsible for RJ's death.
With the school year over, Charlie has the summer ahead to spend with RJ's dog, Sunny — his new, inherited best friend. Sunny plays a role in helping the family through their grief. Together Charlie and Sunny roam the fields surrounding the family's farm, and Charlie helps out Mr. Hanna, the nearest neighbor. Yet, Charlie has too much time on his hands, and his thoughts replay the circumstances surrounding RJ's death.
Charlie's mother, Doreen, seems unable to cope with her grief. With her husband's support, she leaves her family for the summer to stay with her sister-in-law, Susan. The time away is restorative, and she returns to the family farm in time for the start of school. The one-year anniversary of RJ's death passes, and life goes on.
Hunting season begins a few days before Thanksgiving, with Sunny fearful of the booming gun noises. Charlie is traumatized when a hunter accidentally shoots and kills Sunny. The Elliots bury Sunny in the spot where RJ fell. Charlie's life transitions into Henry's (see next paragraph), and the reader learns that Charlie is Henry's father. Charlie's rescue of Buddy from the hunter's trap leads him to relive the day RJ died. The memory clarifies for him that his kite had landed near the barn door, and that RJ didn't fall from the tree because of the kite. And Charlie can stop feeling the guilt he's had for years over RJ's death.
The book's title derives from 11-year-old Henry's Christmas list. More than anything else in the world, he wants to have a dog and everything for a dog — especially after his best and only friend moves away. Henry's parents allow other pets — a hamster, a cat — but never a dog. Henry still desires to have a dog.
One day, he spots a stray nosing through garbage cans and secretly plans how he'll make friends with the dog, train him, clean him and then convince his parents to let him keep the dog that Henry has already named Buddy. His plan expands when he meets a group of other kids whose help he enlists in catching and training Buddy.
By the time Christmas arrives, Henry still hasn't made much progress in his plans for Buddy. Following their annual custom, Henry and his parents visit his Aunt Susan on Christmas Eve. When Aunt Susan asks Henry what was on his Christmas list, he tells her about his request for a dog. Aunt Susan immediately understands that the denial of his request is because of Henry's dad's painful loss when he was young — not just of his brother, but also of his dog, Sunny. She encourages Charlie to tell his son about Sunny. Henry begins to understand why he can't have a dog and gives up on his plan, though he still intends to keep Buddy as a secret outdoor dog.
After Christmas, Buddy takes a liking to the new cookies Henry leaves out for him, and he starts coming to Henry's house every day. With cookies as a reward, Buddy learns to come when called, sit and be cuddled. Then he suddenly stops coming. With Buddy missing, Henry is forced to tell his parents about his secret outdoor dog. His father agrees to help search for Buddy. After a two-day search in the woods, they find Buddy hopelessly caught in a hunter's leg-hold trap. Henry and his father take the dog to the vet clinic where Buddy heals and is later taken to his new home to live with Henry.
Charlie attends church with his father. The congregants pray for Doreen and make food for the Elliots while Doreen recovers at her sister-in-law's. Charlie's father doesn't allow him to phone the school music teacher because it's a Sunday evening. Charlie and his mother listen to a Thanksgiving church service on the radio. Henry sets out a crèche at Christmas, but his family does not attend church services. Rather, they read "The Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve.
Other Belief Systems
When Henry first meets Letty Lewis, an elderly recluse, he thinks she is a witch. She knows his name, and she correctly guesses that he wants to own a dog, but his parents won't allow it. Santa Claus is a big part of the town's Christmas parade. Much of Henry's perception of Christmas is that it's magical and is more about presents and giving than about Jesus. When Buddy begins to come to Henry's house once a day, Henry begins to believe that maybe "Christmas magic" is true or that perhaps some power had been released when his father tells him about Sunny. Henry tries to send telepathic thoughts to Buddy. Henry hopes wearing a wool hat made by Aunt Susan will bring him good luck when he searches for Buddy.
Charlie calls the unknown hunter who shoots Sunny a stupid idiot. A man throws Bone and his sister out of a car window onto an asphalt parking lot. Bone gets a bloody nose, and Squirrel makes a cracking sound when she hits the pavement. Then she is unable to walk.
A hunter accidentally kills Sunny. Charlie sees the shot impact Sunny, and when he reaches her and turns her over, his hands are "slick with blood." Charlie's memory of finding RJ's body details the blood appearing at the mouth and nose of the body, trickling and spilling to the ground. Blood from Buddy's foot soaks through Henry's mittens.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics :
How did Charlie act around his mother?
* Did he give any hints about what he thought about her crying?
* Why do many children have trouble being around adults who cry?
Loneliness seems to be a recurring theme for some of the characters.
* Why is Charlie is lonely?
* Why is Henry lonely?
* Why is Letty Lewis lonely?
* How does each of these characters move forward and away from loneliness?
* Have you ever felt lonely?
* What can you do to change that feeling?
How does Henry feel when he realizes that not being allowed to have a dog has nothing to do with the expense, his behavior or his being responsible?
* Is his father's reason for not wanting Henry to have a dog — he wanted to spare Henry from a painful loss when the dog died — valid?
Have you ever lost anyone near to you?
* Have any of your pets died?
* What most helped you cope?
* How might you help someone else who grieves a similar loss?
Charlie lives in a rural area where hunting is part of the culture.
* Why does he dislike guns, call hunters "murderers" and think hunting should be outlawed?
* Is he right about hunting?
* How have Charlie's emotions caused him to take a stand on hunting?
Is Henry right to buy a leash, collar and treats and keep Buddy a secret from his parents?
* What would you have done in his place?
Everything for a Dog is a companion to Martin's celebrated book A Dog's Life: Autobiography of a Stray.
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Readability Age Range
9 to 12
Ann M. Martin
Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan.
This book has won many regional awards, such as the Iowa Children's Choice Award (2011-2012).