"Let's get this part over with--it's no secret.
My dog, Maxi, dies.
Just like Old Yeller, Sounder, Old Dan, and Little Ann all
died. Except those dogs were fictional. You cried, I cried when fake
dogs died. Maxi was real."
Lynn Plourde is one of America's most prolific providers of
picture book content. (I can envision her wincing at the gratuitous
alliteration). Really excellent picture books. Some, like Pigs In
The Mud, are riotously funny. Others, like The Dump Man's Treasure,
are poignant and tender. And who can forget her four volume
personification of the seasons as children? I mean she has all the
When I saw that Lynn was moving on up to chapter books I wasn't
sure I was ready for that. With Maxi's Secrets (Or, What You Can
Learn From A Dog), Lynn proves that she was more than ready.
Timminy, like so many other kids, has to move to accomodate
parental career advancement. His teacher father is moving on up to
become a middle school assistant principal. He is, shall we say, less
than enthusiastic. He's way short for boys and girls--in the 0.001
percntile as in way out on the tail of the old bell curve. Being
runty, having a unique name, and being the only child of the assistant
principal...no way is he going to fly under the bullies' radar in his
And the family is moving from Portland, the cultural center of
Maine, to the boonies, a town that makes Bangor look big time.
Yikes! Timminy's parents spin that into a selling point. They're far
enough out in the country that he can have a dog and not just any dog...
...Maxi (short for Maxine) is a white Great Pyreneese (as in
really big canine). She's a frolicking, energetic, affectionate,
playful beast. But there are gradual intimations that all is not
right. Maxi doesn't even startle at the noise a giant ATV makes. A
trip to the vet confirms the family's fears. Maxi is deaf.
And, as you already know from the quote at the top, the first
paragraphs of chapter 1, that's not the worst challenge dog
companionship will throw at Timminy. But when he hits that point he
has some unexpected allies to help him cope.
If my kids were still in the target age range I'd leave Maxi's
Secrets out (my stealth way of recommending) and probably never get it
back. It's a very engaging read for intermediate grade kids--
especially those who have had to cope with major life changes or the
loss of a beloved companion animal.
In writing Maxi's Secrets, Lynn was honoring a beloved dog,
Maggie, whom she had lost and expounding on the idea that death does
not end a relationship even though it ends a life. In an email
prompted by my bitchy "Why the hell did you kill the dog?" she
explained that people too often do their best to be in denial about a
normal part of life.
"My experience is that if, instead, we lean into our grief--
truly acknowledge it, feel it in our hearts and with our tears how
much our loved one meant to us, we are honoring our feelings in a
healthy way as well as honoring the BIGNESS of that loved one in our
So, Lynn, write more treasures for the intermediate grades
crowd. You've earned the right. Heck, venture into YA territory if
your heart desires. Just be aware that if you stop creating picture
book magic I'll thumb down to Southern Maine with a brontosaurus size
bone to pick.
On a very personal note, yeah, cats die too. With my precious Joey,
who will turn 14 June 8, we've had two scary close calls. He was born
with urinary tract problems that have necessitated two serious
surgeries. The most recent one, two years ago, lasted 4 1/2 hours and
required the head of the vet practice to come in and assist. I have
to carefully monitor stuff most people don't. This could make me sad
if I let it. What Joey and I do is live every day of his life to its
fullest. In a way I am probably luckier than people who have the
luxury of taking their companion animals for granted.
Someday when the inevitable happens Joseph Jacob Hathaway is
going to have an outsize legacy for a ten pound long haired tuxedo
cat. I'm going to start a foundation to raise money for life saving
vetinary operations for animals whose people don't have enough money.
It will be called Joy. That's how I will cope and honor the BIGNESS
of Joey in my life.
I hope that is FAR in the future. Til then I am treasuring and
celebrating my very good boy.
A great big shout out goes out to the beloved animals who add so much
joy and unconditional love to our lives and teach us lessons beyond
what our two footed peers can convey.
Sent from my iPod