Sunny Weber - Book Reviews

In our final segment, let’s tie up the two previous segments featured in this blog post, their importance, and how books can bring us the tools to reach out to middle grade children as they approach their individual “coming-of-age” challenges.

In Part One we learned:

  • “Coming-of-age” books try to address emotional and social challenges that all children face. There are so many options and expectations from society that often children founder in trying to discern how grow up to be the best they can be.
  • Children mimic the kindness or the cruelty they see and experience. They sometimes turn to violent “acting out,” such as animal abuse. Animal abuse usually begins in frustrated, unsupported children in the middle-grade years. Studies show that early animal abuse always leads to violence against people, so it is crucial to intervene as soon as possible.
  • Teachers, counselors, and other “objective outside observers” can often spot troubled children and provide needed interventions. Timely intercession is crucial so that a child’s and/or a pet’s safety can be secured.
  • Education of children by trusted adults, who have the skills to guide their pupils through empathetic life lessons they may not receive at home, will save both the child and the pet.

In Part Two we discussed:

  • The roll of parents, educators, counselors, and humane educators in reaching out to and turning potential young animal abusers into caring, respectful pet custodians.
  • Reading life-like stories about animals and seeing the world through those animals’ eyes can engage youthful empathy, and motivate revealing personal conversations with supporting adults.
  • The Pups & Purrs Children’s Humane Education books feature stories of multi-layered themes and messages that are timeless and relevant. Plus, they all have happy endings.
  • Adults can relax and trust the softly didactic stories and children can become engrossed with the protagonist dogs’ life stories—which will leave children cheering their new fictional dog friends.
  • Parents, teachers, counselors, and humane educators can use the series to provide guidance for children: teaching what animals need, to help children develop empathy, see the world through animal eyes, see themselves in the coming-of-age challenges, and assist in the early development of altruism and compassion.
  • Each book’s independent story promotes the humane treatment of all creatures and the environment by furnishing tool, like the Discussion Guide PDF (at for parents, teachers, counselors, and humane educators at home, school, in therapeutic settings, and at animal rescue environments.


Now, in Part Three, let’s take an in-depth look at what each books offers trusted adults and early readers:

In The Dog at the Gate: How a Throwaway Dog Becomes Special, protagonist Max is raised in neglect and cruelty. Isolated in a backyard, with only his blackbird friend to tell him about the outside world, Max tries to live vicariously with his ally’s advice. The only kindness he experiences is with his little boy, who is also neglected and abused—and unfortunately unable to be much company.

Max must decide what kind of grown-up dog he will become—aggressive and mean (as he’s been treated), or to seek out the love and acceptance he yearns for. Then he must set goals to accomplish his search, take responsibility for his decisions (both good and bad), and voluntarily reach out for help. Even after he finds success in a new life, he doubts his self-worth. When he faces his ultimate challenge, Max finds the courage to accept himself, as well as his next and ultimate journey. Max’s true “forever home” is not what he expected.

In Hurricane Dog: A Tale of Betrayal, Redemption & Change, main character Gator is raised in kindness. Both Gator and his black boy Gavin face the ugliness of bigotry, because Gator is a Pit Bull mix and Gavin is poor boy of color. Their bond solidifies in their need for each other. With his beloved boy by his side, Gator helps save a puppy mill survivor with no name. They call her Magnolia, and the little dog blooms from hopeless to hopeful. At the same time, Gator descends into cynicism and bitterness, after both dogs are left during a Louisiana hurricane. Gator and Magnolia cling to each other through starvation, chaos, relocation, and emotional turmoil. When again faced with his nemesis, Gator must decide to either remain untrusting and angry, or to forgive and empathize with his perceived betrayer.

The relationship between the boy Gavin and his puppy Gator spans into adulthood for each. Their bond eventually causes historically true changes in Federal Law regarding the rescue of pets and their people during natural disasters—illustrating that even seemingly insignificant boys and puppies can influence the world.

The third book of the series, From Wild to Mild: A Dog in Two Worlds, centers on the main theme of the importance of searching for your true self. Puppy Kaya is kidnapped and then raised by coyotes. She struggles to force herself to become a wild canid. But try as she might, she cannot take another life for food, and she can’t stay awake for night hunts.

Kaya finds other ways to contribute and discovers the value of mother love and sibling companionship. Her father, however, is an unscrupulous, bullying meanie who constantly berates her. Early on, Kaya recognizes that her father has no morals or integrity. She knows she must go—to find her true calling and a place where she is accepted for whom and what she naturally is.

Max, Gator, and Kaya battle their own innate demons. Each one has inborn talents and interests and will be happier if those traits are discovered and adhered to. They learn that being true to oneself is crucial to the development of personal courage and higher character attributes. All three dogs come to realizations that clarify their individual journeys, just like young readers.

Children may be born into certain circumstances, but there are choices in whom and what he or she ultimately becomes. All children must leave their primary family and find their own path to adulthood—utilizing inborn talents and learning skills that fit their natures.

Just as children grow up and must leave home to strike out on their own, Max, Gator, and Kaya face their futures—sometimes with courage, sometimes with trepidation. But they know there is no home to return to, until they finally find they are at home within themselves.1

To see the complete series, the Pups & Purrs philosophy, the discussion guide, and more information go to

Sunny Weber

Sunny Weber

Sunny has over 25 years’ experience in pet rescue, humane education, shelter & sanctuary work, service dog training, obedience competition, dog & cat fostering, pet medical care, horse ground training and has authored articles and books in several fields.

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