Our last book for the season, just before school let out, was The Leanin’ Dog by K. A. Nuzum. An interesting choice since the book is set at Christmas time during the 1930s in the woods of Colorado. But the book included a dog and a girl, so it was a shoe-in to be picked by the club!
The book follows eleven year-old Dessa Dean as she struggles to overcome her grief of having her mother die in her arms during a snowstorm two months prior. Dessa Dean and her father try to cope the way many families do – by pretending that nothing has changed. Dessa takes over her mother’s duties in the little cabin while continuing her school work; her father continues to hunt for food and hide his feelings. Of course, Dessa can’t hide the fact that she can’t venture beyond the front porch of the cabin, but both her and her father are good at ignoring this as much as possible.
When a stray dog comes along, Dessa Dean is so captivated that she almost leaves the cabin without realizing it. The dog wants to stay with Dessa Dean, but can’t tolerate being closed in the cabin. The two of them have to face and overcome their fears and they all learn to move on without forgetting.
Because the weather was so nice, we had our meeting outside in the summer sunshine. We took turns answering the discussion questions from the official Reader’s Guide (The Leanin Dog Discussion Questions) courtesy of harper collins’ website: http://files.harpercollins.com/PDF/ReadingGuides/0061139351.pdf. Like our previous months’ read, this one dealt with a child holding onto guilt inside themselves. Dessa feels guilty for her mother’s death, for her father’s sadness, and for her own inability to leave their cabin. We discussed how we keep things inside, and how sometimes talking about those things can make them more manageable, and even be resolved.
Being June, it was a lovely sunny day, and we held our discussion and activities outside. I chose a pioneer-type craft that, even though technically it was a Christmas craft, could be used in the summer as well. Using small foil pie plates, we created tin punch designs as Christmas ornaments like in the book (The Leanin Dog Tin Star Punch Craft). I thought the final product would look pretty hung from outside trees, swaying in the summer breeze. The kids enjoyed making their own designs of stars, butterflies, and happy faces. Since we were using hammers and nails, I had the kids work on cutting boards. Luckily we also used my craft table and not our wooden patio set – some of the kids missed the nails and hit the table instead!