Recommended for ages 8-12
A tired dog wanders the woods and saves a cat from a weasel attack. She’s taken in by the cat’s human, an older man living on his own, and he christens the dog, “Mutt”. The son of the migrant family working for the man bonds with the dog, who gives birth to a little of four puppies. He names them, cares for them, but when the family has to move on and tells their employer that they won’t be back, he gives the puppies away, saying they’re too much to take care for. Two puppies are adopted by one loving family, but the other two – a female named Luna and a boy named Chief – end up living a nightmare in a horrific puppy mill. Will they be able to keep their spirits and their bodies healthy enough to survive and escape?
Mutt’s Promise is an unexpected book. It starts in a most idyllic setting, only to move pretty quickly into some heavy social issues. While the idea of migrant worker families is lightly touched on, it’s there, showing that this is not something that died out with The Grapes of Wrath. The heavier topic here is animal cruelty, most notably the kind of cruelty that takes place in puppy mills. Luna, a spunky little female pup, also deals with crushing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in the puppy mill. All of these topics are handled in an age-appropriate manner, framed within the animals’ story and using vocabulary that doesn’t try to sugar-coat what happens in these places, but makes the situation comprehensible to younger readers.
The writing and illustrations made me think of the animal fiction I read as a child; books like Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers series, and one of my all-time favorites, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket. Kids who love animal fiction will enjoy this book, and it provides a gentle introduction to hot-button social issues today. For kids who have experienced trauma in their own lives, reading a book like this may help facilitate a discussion; guidance counselors and therapists should give this a read and have available to talk over with parents and children.
Author has written nine books for both adults and children, including Cat in the City (also illustrated by Jill Weber). Jill Weber is a children’s book illustrator and designer, and has worked on two other books by Julie Salamon.
Enjoy a glimpse at some of the art from the pages of Mutt’s Promise.