Cover image for The leanin' dog
The leanin' dog
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Joanna Cotler Books, c2008.
Physical Description:
250 p. ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
960 L Lexile
In wintry Colorado during the 1930s, eleven-year-old Dessa Dean mourns the death of her beloved mother, but the arrival of an injured dog and the friendship they form is just what they need to change their lives forever.


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More than anything, Dessa Dean needed a friend. A friend to love and confide in, a friend with whom she could share her heart. A friend who would delight in all the beauty and joy and fun of Christmas, only four days away.

Hope had just about run out, but then . . . there came a scratchin' at the door and Dessa Dean's life was forever changed.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Eleven-year-old Dessa Dean lives with her father, a hunter and trapper, in a remote wilderness area. So traumatized by witnessing her mother's death that she cannot bear to leave the cabin even to use the outhouse, she is plagued by nightmares and tormented by waking daymares. She lives a lonely life until a lame, half-starved dog comes to the door. In reaching out to befriend the skittish dog, she begins to think beyond her limitations and takes the first step toward healing. In a convincing first-person narrative, Dessa tells of her frustration with her troubles, her hopes when the dog appears, her determination to bring him into her life, and her slow progress toward that end. Though the plot's outcome is predictable, readers who enjoy animal stories will no doubt find plenty to like here. A quiet novel from the author of A Small White Scar (2006).--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2008 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-Dessa Dean, 11, was a powerless witness as her diabetic mother froze to death when they were caught in an early-winter storm. Since then, she and her father have gone through the motions of normalcy, with him going out daily to check the traps while she stays behind to do the schoolwork he prepares and to fix their meager dinner. But things are not normal: Dessa Dean frequently relives the horror of her mother's death, and she is unable to make herself venture beyond the steps of their isolated Colorado cabin. The week before Christmas, though, an injured dog comes sniffing around. Dessa Dean's initial attempts to befriend it fail: the jittery animal has apparently been abused and keeps her distance. Repeated efforts pay off, but even when the dog allows Dessa Dean to approach her, she remains on edge around the girl's father. As another storm nears, he is having no success with his hunting forays and has little patience for a dog that will only stay inside when the door is open to the frigid air. Dessa Dean is caught between her growing feelings for the animal and her father's concern over their basic survival. This story of an agoraphobic girl and a claustrophobic dog and how they slowly move one another toward hope could have been maudlin, but Nuzum's pacing and spare, poetic narrative create something quite wonderful. The novel will draw comparisons to Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), but it is certainly not a Winn-Dixie wannabe. This is a beautiful story in which friendship and the power of being needed trump despair.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Leanin' Dog Chapter One Just Like I Used To I shoved my braids up into my woolen cap, pulled the itchy thing farther down over my ears, and crossed to the cabin window. I touched my nose to the small square of cold glass. The snow had started up again; it fell thick and heavy like the velvet curtain at the theatre way down in town. I filled my eyes with the sight of it and then scrunched them shut and stretched my arms wide to both sides. Up and down real slow I moved them, like I used to, lying in the deep snow, pushing out perfect angel wings, feeling the cold and the wet seep through the backside of my britches and coat, feeling the snow spill down my neck. I remembered. My eyes roved over the snow-covered ground. Reading the morning paper was what Daddy called it. I figured four new inches had fallen on top of the old three feet. I saw a coyote had trotted by and stopped to sniff at the base of the big pine that stood at the edge of the front porch. He'd come sometime during the night; his prints looked crusty at their edges. There was a round snuffle print and a fan of snow where he'd paused and stuck his nose down in right ahead of his side-by-side front paws. A magpie had hopped in a circle all the way around the big pine and kept on going out toward the woods. His long tail print followed behind the tracks of his big feet. Looking out on the calm, white world, a hope started deep inside me. "I can," I whispered to myself. "I can. I can. Just like I used to." I called up what Daddy said was my stubborn streak and snatched my coat off one of the fat ten-penny nails Daddy had hammered into the wall to hold our outdoor duds and knapsacks. I stuck my arms through the sleeves as quick as I could, buttoned it lickety-split. My heart started to thud, but I ignored it. My jaws commenced to ache from clenching my teeth. I ignored them, too. "I can." I tried to say it in a stubborn manner. The steel latch on the cabin door was cold as death to my fingers. I'd meet Daddy right outside, I told myself, and say good morning, and he would give me the biggest smile. His eyes would look surprised, amazed, and proud as all get out. I lifted the latch and the cabin door swung out. Frigid claws of air sliced at my face. My hands flew up to cover my ears under the woolen cap, and I hadn't even told them to. "I can. I can." My heart pounded so I thought it would burst through my chest. Out the door I pushed myself and onto the front porch. Nettles of dry snow pelted my cheeks. I looked up and my breath caught in my throat; the sky was so gray, so low. Masses of clouds as big as the continent of Africa rolled past over my head. Pressing my ears tight against my head, I forced my eyes down to the porch and made myself concentrate on the wooden planks. I tried to step just where the snow had blown off and the boards showed. I pushed my feet past the knothole shaped like a wolf's head. It was smack in the middle of plank number four, counting from the cabin door. I stepped onto plank number six with the eleven nail scratches in it; snow covered most of them. I made a new scratch on my birthday every year. I had started carving them when I turned four, and the marks from back then were shallow and wiggly. They got deeper and straighter each year. I forced my feet over my birthday lines and across plank seven and plank eight. There were only two more boards, two more boards to the edge of the porch. "I can. I can." But my ears were starting in. The ache commenced, the ache that stretched from my ears to my toes . . . the losing-Mama ache. "I can." My voice sounded small and raggedy and muffled. I was almost to the edge. Almost to where the porch stopped and the wide world began. There was hardly any steam coming from my mouth now. I gasped air in, but I couldn't let it go. I blinked my eyes, scrunched them tight to stop their tears; but I told my legs to keep on. And they did, pushing me out to the edge, out to the edge. The sky seemed to drag on the tops of the pine trees, coming lower and lower, squeezing me and making my head spin. I lifted my right foot off the porch and hung it out in the air. I commanded my knees to bend; I ordered my right foot to reach for the ground. I couldn't see the ground for my tears, and my eardrums vibrated with the sobs I tried to hold inside. "Mama!" The scream blew out of my mouth like the wailing wind. As I whirled back to the cabin door, I caught sight of Daddy headed for the shed, where he had a deer carcass frozen. He spun around when I screamed, and our eyes met. He didn't have the biggest smile on his face. He didn't look proud. He didn't look surprised or amazed. The Leanin' Dog . Copyright © by K. Nuzum . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Leanin' Dog by K. A. Nuzum All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.