Children's Literature @ NYPL
Booktalking "Sheep" by Valerie Hobbs
The life of a dog, passed through so many hands in so many homes. A border collie called Blackie, Shep, Spot, Sparky, and Jack in succession by different people.
The dog started life in the idyllic country of sheep. His days consisted of running around his mother in the chronically overexcited state that characterizes puppies, especially border collie pups. He loved chasing sheep and learning from watching other dogs herd the sheep.
Then, one day he found himself separated from his mother, and he ended up in a pet shop. He was adopted by a very bouncy little girl called Penelope. Quickly, the border collie became bored with domesticity, which paled in comparison with a life herding sheep.
The dog ran away and paired up with the Goat Man. However, the dog learned that he was less fond of goats than he was of sheep.
He eventually wound up in an animal shelter. He hopefully greeted potential adopters, then was unlucky enough to be adopted by a guy for work in a euphemistically named "Billy's Big Happy Circus." There, he was punished with a bull whip for refusing to "dance" (turn on his hind feet), lashed so many times that he lost consciousness and was incapacitated for quite some time. (Bull whips are cruel when used on horses, let alone a 40-pound dog.) Luckily, there was a fire in the circus, and he was able to escape before meeting the trainer's cruel hands again.
At that point, he met an orphan boy from the Good Shepherd Home for Boys, Luke, who loved the dog a lot. However, an adult found the dog hidden at the orphanage, and he became a stray once again.
I love the fact that this book is written from the viewpoint of a dog. It shows the perpetual enthusiasm and good nature of dogs. In general, I am not a fan of this style (it can be anthropomorphic); however, in this case, it was done with such authenticity that it works well. I like the white and black simplicity of the cover, with the driven nature of sheep herding dogs emphasized. He is constantly thinking about his herd, as is evidenced by the thought bubble above the collie's head. I also like the simple title: Sheep; border collies are single-minded in their desire to make sure that those sheep are in line at all times.
The book is also a poignant depiction of the pain that is inflicted upon animals by cruel owners.
I have a special place in my heart for border collies. They are one of the most intelligent breeds of dogs; they are very keen, energetic and interested in a lot of things. I volunteered at several animal shelters for about six and one-half years. I usually did not fall much for the dogs; I was just glad to give them walks, a reprieve from their cages and their runs. I happen to be particularly fond of border collies, labs, cocker spaniels, etc. In a Pennsauken, NJ shelter, I found Bob, a tri-colored border collie in one of the dog runs one day. He did not waste time endearing himself to me; he said hi, then went back to retrieve one of his toys in his mouth. he brought the toy to me, and he was fond of bringing toys on walks. Sometimes, he would drop his toy on a walk; I would tell him to pick it up, and he would. Bob was a dog that belonged in somebody's backyard, not a shelter. He was at the no-kill shelter for months. He was adopted once, then returned for jumping fences. Luckily, Bob found a home shortly before the shelter was slated to close.