As you may know, throughout this past year I blogged the nonfiction book, Dogland. Dogland, written by Jacki Skole, investigates the American shelter system and rescue efforts, looking for answers on how we can reduce euthanasia rates in shelters and help adoptable dogs find homes. Now, what you don’t know is that some time ago, I received the fiction book A Place To Call Home: Toby’s Home, by G.A. Whitmore, via Net Galley. I have finally read the book and in doing so, couldn’t help but think back to the themes of Dogland. Where in Dogland, the author was on a quest to learn her rescue dog’s history before being adopted, A Place to Call Home gets to tell us the history of one dog’s life and how he ends up at a Humane Society shelter.
A Place To Call Home: Toby’s Tale is a middle-grade novel about animal welfare and adoption, focusing on an all-white German Shepherd-wolf hybrid puppy named Toby who was born on a farm. Toby’s Tale is a journey across the United States, where Toby experiences love, loss, and harm. As an animal lover, more than once I was brought to tears through the moving prose; I found myself impressed by how the story managed to convey serious issues despite being a children’s novel.
One aspect of the novel that struck me was how the author incorporated different prejudices the humans and the animals characters had. For example, one of these prejudices is in regards to wolves. I thought A Place to Call Home did an excellent job at dispelling myths about wolves. In fact, the novel focused more on how humans harm wolves than the other way around, portraying wolves as sympathetic characters. Near the beginning of the novel, Toby’s grandfather, a wolf, tells his partner: “Don’t you know what humans do to other animals? […] They kill and maim them for no reason… I know. They killed my mother.” Usually, media presents wolves as villains who are always eager to kill and eat other animals or humans. So choosing to portray humans as the bad guys, and not wolves, is actually the more realistic choice.
Another strength of the novel is how it promotes animal rescue and adoption. Toby was born on a farm, where his mother was used as a breeding dog. Toby’s grandmother had been a breeding dog, too, for the family. Readers will understand that being used as a breeder is emotionally devastating for the dogs: When Sadie, Toby’s grandma, experiences her litter being sold, it’s described in this way: “A heavy sorrow had laid itself upon her after her puppies were taken away one by one.” Further, the farmer, who is the one running the breeding operation, is portrayed as a villain character. He lacks compassion and empathy for animals and sees the dogs solely as a means to an end, which is money. When the dogs can’t bring him money, he sees them as expendable garbage. The book clearly presents this form of exploitation as immoral.
Instead of being told strictly from either a human or dog perspective, the novel cleverly blends the perspectives in a way that doesn’t bog down the pace or tension. We get to see the events unfold from different dogs, starting with Toby’s mother, and the humans, both adults and children, who cross path with Toby and his family. The author chose to present the dog perspective in italics font, which helps to ensure there’s no confusion.
I would recommend this book to families who have pets or who are thinking about getting a pet. Not only does the book promotes animal adoption, but the book also informs its young readers of what they may find at an animal shelter, which is that the animals there may have come from abusive backgrounds, and how to best care for a pet who may have experienced trauma. I think that A Place To Call Home would be an excellent opportunity for a parent to read alongside their child; although the book explores the issues in an age-appropriate manner, it does cover some heavy topics. These topics include animal abuse and alcoholism. I appreciate that the novel did not shy away from the reality of human violence on animals, and did not find those scenes graphic or inappropriate for children.
You can learn more about A Place To Call Home: Toby’s Tale, at the author’s official website. Thinking about buying the book? Please do! A portion of the proceeds will benefit animal rescue! Don’t forget to add the book to your Goodreads shelf!