It’s NOT Just A Dog! continues the story of Madison and Cooper which began in When Dogs Blog. You don’t necessarily need to read When Dogs Blog first, but I’ll assume you’ve at least read the review. The school year, during which Madison and Cooper shut down a puppy mill, is over. Cooper is living with Netta and helping her take care of the shelter. Paige has moved away, and a boy named Jonah moves in. When a gravely injured dog is abandoned at the shelter, Madison starts to suspect that there’s a dog fighting ring in their town. The kids all join together to try to bring it to light.
The tone is similar to the first book, complete with hashtags and text conversations. The look of the book is different, though, with art and a hand drawn map of the neighborhood that look like Madison might be illustrating her story.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Death and Violence
The story opens with a sack of puppies abandoned on the stoop of Netta’s shelter, and one of the puppies is too sick and doesn’t survive. The book includes some details of dog fighting, including the use of smaller meeker animals as bait dogs. We read about the injuries to dogs that have been in fights, and they’re pretty gruesome. One of the dogs dies from his wounds, despite everyone’s best efforts to save him. In the end, he has to be put down.
Madison’s connection to dogs is getting stronger, although it’s inconsistent and unpredictable, and it intensifies the impact of the dogs’ injuries.
Madison and Henry have started talking more about her mom and he observes some of the things that Madison has in common with her mother. At some point she fears that her mother is so perfect that she can never be like her. Madison is starting to want to find out even more about her mom, but she starts hiding some of it from Henry and Netta. She finds a key and she and Cooper find a hidden room where they find a suitcase which they then go to great lengths to hide from Henry. Her tactics are questionable, but the purpose is to get closer to her dead mother.
Stereotypes and Spirituality
Jonah and his family have Native American ancestors, and he mentions a few tribes that they identify with. His old uncle lives with them and believes in quests and totem animals and some other spiritual things. Jonah thinks his uncle is a little goofy (although he does value some things, like respecting someone on their territory), but Madison hopes that Jonah’s uncle can help her understand her connection to dogs. She sees a raven and a white wolf repeatedly, although she isn’t sure what it means. She frequently asks Jonah to have some respect for his uncle. There are reminders that this is how Jonah’s family celebrates their culture, but it’s just one way.
Some of this felt kind of glossed over and stereotypical to me, although I don’t know enough to discuss that in detail. There are some websites provided at the end of the book for people to research Native American stories and customs if they wish.
Madison wants a miracle when she’s caring for the dog injured in the fight. She goes into the woods and prays in general—to the Christian god Netta believes in, to the Great Spirit, to a spirit of the animals, to anything that will hear her. The white wolf appears to her, but she doesn’t understand what it means. She doesn’t get her miracle, but she does learn to come to terms with the fact that the kindest thing they can do is end the suffering of the injured dog.
Dangerous Situations and Lying
It’s made very clear that dog fighting rings are often run by really dangerous people. And Madison ends up locked in a shed and she’s almost run over by a car, Jonah messes up his leg, Lilly is dognapped, and Donald is beaten up really badly. The kids eventually collect the evidence they need, but it’s while Jonah’s cousin is driving without a valid license and they’re breaking and entering when the parents have no idea what they’re up to. The lawyer they go to insists that Madison and Cooper tell Henry and Netta what they’ve been up to, but Jonah asks Madison to never tell his mom. Plus, telling adults after the fact doesn’t do much to help in the previous nearly deadly adventures. There’s a lot of talk about consequences, and it seems that Madison and Cooper will probably face some after they tell Henry and Netta what they’ve been up to, but we don’t find out what they are.
Things Are Complicated
Madison sees a neglected dog, and she’s really upset. After visiting the house a few times, she finally realizes that the owner is sick and very poor—he can’t feed himself, let alone care for a dog. She calls Henry and together they help get the dog and her owner get back on their feet. Madison’s immediate thought had been to blame the owner and try to get the dog taken away, but then she learns that things aren’t always what they appear. It makes her really happy to be able to keep the dog and her owner together and help them get healthier.
Like When Dogs Blog, this is a good book for kids who love animals, as long as they won’t be totally distraught by the details about animal cruelty. Madison and Cooper are training service puppies, so there are some happy animal stories, too. This book feels a bit more sprawling with the many things it covers, but it’s obvious that there’s a lot more to Madison’s story. I’d recommend it for ages 9 and up, and make sure you’re ready to discuss some tough issues about how animals are treated. The author is donating a portion of the proceeds to animal charities, and there are websites at the end for those who want more information, as well as a recipe for dog treats.
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.