word craft


The Good Dog

The Good Dog

Richard Jack­son Books / Atheneum, 2001

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audio book nar­rat­ed by 
Robert Ramirez

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What’s this book about?

In the Col­orado moun­tain town of Steam­boat Springs there must be three hun­dred dogs. Jack­’s mala­mute, McKin­ley, is the leader of them all. But Jack, being human, has no way of know­ing that. For him, his fam­i­ly’s dog is just a great pal. And protector.

Jack can­not know that Red­burn, a “leash-lick­ing” Irish set­ter, is McKin­ley’s rival for the job of head dog. The boy can­not know, with the sud­den hill­side appear­ance of a she-wolf, Lupin, that not only McKin­ley’s job—but his life—is in dan­ger. Lupin’s mes­sage: Dogs free your­selves from mankind. Come join us, we who need you to replen­ish our dimin­ish­ing wolf pack in the wild.

But imag­ine how a good dog, loy­al to his human pup, would hear Lupin’s call!

McKin­ley’s thrilling sto­ry tells itself, as first he and the boy togeth­er encounter Lupin in a canyon per­fect for an old-time ambush, and lat­er as they try to save her from both Red­burn and a neigh­bor, a vicious man armed with a gun and a grudge. No one—not even McKinley—can fore­see the end.

Story Behind the Story

My two sons, Robert and Jack, though four years apart in age, were insep­a­ra­ble friends. But when Robert start­ed high school, my wife and I decid­ed Jack need­ed a new friend. That’s how McKin­ley, an Alaskan mala­mute, came into our lives. He would live with us for almost four­teen years, and become the quin­tes­sen­tial fam­i­ly dog. A big, hand­some dog, weigh­ing  more than a hun­dred pounds at his peak, he was much loved, was very affec­tion­ate, play­ful and close—in his own way—to every indi­vid­ual mem­ber of the family.

He was very big, big enough—with his wolf-like looks—to alarm strangers. That said, he was end­less­ly affec­tion­ate. But when sirens blew—fire engines, an ambulance—he would lift his head and howl like a wolf, a deeply beau­ti­ful and res­onate call from and to the wild.

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Awards and Recognition

  • The Cal­i­for­nia Young Read­er Medal, 2005–2006
  • Chil­dren’s Crown Award, 2004
  • Rocky Moun­tain News, one of the best books of the year, 2001
  • Chil­dren’s Choice nom­i­nee, Penn­syl­va­nia, 2003
  • Chil­dren’s Choice nom­i­nee, Min­neso­ta, 2006


“The action moves along at a crack­ling pace, reach­ing a crescen­do in a dra­mat­ic moon­light con­fronta­tion. The dog’s‑eye point of view allows for some cre­ative touch­es, includ­ing insights into ani­mal behav­ior and the vocab­u­lary McKin­ley uses for var­i­ous human objects (‘eat­ing sticks’ for uten­sils, ‘a block of star­ing papers’ for books, ‘glow box’ for tele­vi­sion). But most com­pelling of all is the trans­for­ma­tion of McKinley’s hap­py-go-lucky char­ac­ter into a tru­ly majes­tic leader.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

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