Christmas is only days away, but with her diabetic mother's death barely two months ago and her father's hunting traps continually empty, 11-year-old Dessa Dean wonders if there will be a celebration at all this year. It may take a miracle, or the sudden appearance of a fudge - colored dog, to restore holiday cheer in K.A. Nuzum's heartfelt and beautifully crafted book for young readers, The Leanin' Dog.
In the snow-covered Colorado mountains, Dessa Dean, still dealing with the frostbite she suffered on the day of her mother's death, is afraid to leave her family's isolated cabin. She counts the number of steps to the front porch, but refuses to step off of it. When the brown dog arrives, it, too, has an injury and needs time to heal. Despite her father's complaints, the girl fixes the dog treats and leaves the cabin door open until the dog feels comfortable enough to come indoors. Dessa Dean's canine friendship inspires her to hang her mother's Christmas decorations and prepare a special holiday dinner, as she realizes she can honor her mother's traditions and create new ones at the same time.
The girl still can't think of a name for her dog, but with her father off checking his traps before a storm sets in, dinner simmering and presents made, she can finally begin to enjoy Christmas. But the thumping outside is not the dog sneaking off with her bone as the girl thinks, but an awakened, hungry bear ready to wreak havoc on the Christmas fixings. As the bear and dog spar throughout the cabin and into the woods, leaving a trail of blood, Dessa Dean must decide if she has the courage to venture into the storm and save her new friend.
By returning Dessa Dean's strength and the Christmas spirit to this grieving family, the dog finally earns a well - deserved name for itself. Nuzum's gifts to readers include her convincing regional dialogue and vivid descriptions of the Colorado wilderness and the range of emotions that sweep through the tiny cabin. This story of an intelligent, resourceful and devoted girl and her loyal pooch will resonate long after the holiday season.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and freelance writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.