What the Dog Knows

Written by Sylvia McNicoll
Published by Dundurn Press

A book review by Daya (12) and Reeya (11)

What the Dog Knows

I think that other kids should read this book because it’s a heartwarming story about friendship and learning to have trust in others.

Hi Daya and Reeya! Can you tell us what this book is about?

Daya: What the Dog Knows, written by award winning author, Sylvia McNicoll, is a story about Naomi and her dog Diesel. Naomi is having the worst summer ever. Her dog Diesel died, her parents split up, and she is stuck babysitting her little cousin instead of taking swimming lessons like she had planned. One thing leads to another when Naomi’s neighbor Morgan convinces her to jump off a dock. Naomi drowns but awakens to find herself back in time, in her backyard with Diesel talking to her inside her head. Naomi is scared that her time may be running out but she is afraid to tell anyone about her drowning because she doesn’t want Diesel’s voice to disappear. Whilst trying to save her own life as well as her dog’s, she must build trust with the people around her. The book is about their friendship and Diesel’s mission to save their pack.

Reeya: This book is about a girl called Naomi who drowns and wakes up a week earlier and finds that her dog can talk. Through her friendship with her dog, they find a way to save her from drowning.

What do you like about this book?

Daya: This book was outstanding. I loved being able to see what the dog was thinking in different situations. I really enjoyed the plot because it kept me wanting to read more. I loved watching the change in the relationship between Morgan and Naomi throughout the book and seeing how the dog helped Naomi focus on the best in Morgan.

Reeya: I like that Naomi was given a second chance at learning how to swim and realizing the importance of being able to swim.

What’s your favourite part of the story and why?

Daya: My favorite part of the book was when Morgan was teaching Naomi how to swim. Even though she didn’t get it at first, she was persistent. Eventually, she was able to swim enough that she was comfortable in the water. The best part, in my opinion, was all of the support she got from Morgan, Diesel and even her little cousin!

Reeya: My favourite part of this book was Naomi’s blossoming friendship with both her dog and another girl. It shows that friendships can be made with anyone at any time.

Why should other kids read this book?

Daya: This story was about the incredible bond between Naomi and her canine companion. I think that other kids should read this book because it’s a heartwarming story about friendship and learning to have trust in others. I think a lot of kids will be able to relate to it, especially if they have a dog (or any pet, really!) The author also included a little bit of humor in the book which I loved.

Reeya: Other kids should read this book because it teaches the meaning of friendship and trust and how valuable it is to have friends.

Who would you recommend this book to?

Daya: I would recommend this book to young teens who enjoy a moving and captivating story. Adults might also enjoy this book because of its intriguing plot.

Reeya: I would recommend this book to children who like animals, and to schools so that the teachers can discuss the importance of kindness and friendship to the kids in the classroom.

If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?

Daya: If I could ask the author a question I would ask: What inspired you to write this book and was Diesel’s character based on a dog in your life?

Author response

Sylvia: The idea of giving a young person another chance when they make a fatal choice—that is such a passion of mine. We all make mistakes that with luck we overcome; I am gutted when I read about a teen dying over one. In real life, I cannot rescue them but in fiction I do. 

Diesel is mostly based on two dogs: Mortie, my own Jackapoo, but even more so on his best friend, an Australian cattle dog boxer cross: Worf.  Worf is the granddog I often watch when my kids are away. He and Mortie team up together to steal a pound of butter from the counter. They also swim together to retrieve a stick from the river, big brown dog gripping one end, tiny spotted black and white dog gripping the other. Aroooh! Mortie is the talkative one. 

Reeya: I would like to ask the author, “Do you think that dogs can understand us when we talk?”

Author response

Sylvia: Dogs can certainly understand some words. A friend of mine said they started spelling “W-A-L-K,” when their dog became too excited over the word. The dog started recognizing the spelling. They then switched to French “promenade”…same thing. Dog know their names, some commands, even if they choose to ignore them sometimes, and they understand words like “squirrel” and “cat,” whatever is repeated enough to them. But what they are real experts in is sensing your body language and emotions. They can literally smell our anxiety, sadness, our illnesses and our joy.

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