Author: Terry Lynn Johnson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of Pages: 198
Published: October 3rd, 2017
11-year-old Matt's family lives the simpler life, "off the grid." They have an outhouse, don't use gas or electricity, and the only phone is a landline for emergencies. Matt is pretty responsible for his age, helping take care of his younger sister, while his father sells his pottery and his mom is doing research. The family also raises and runs sled dogs, which Matt is pretty adept at. Recently, Matt has been having difficulties with his math at school and with Jacob, a kid who's been bullying him and calling him "smoky" because of his families lifestyle. He's also been reluctant to ask for help from his parents or his teacher and dreads the idea that he might be placed in remedial math. When Matt's teacher, Mr. Moffat assigns an extra-credit project to design a business plan and run it, Matt knows that it's his only hope of raising his grade. From this, the Sled Dog School is born. The first step, advertising the lessons to find at least three customers. The first to apply is Tubbs, who was hoping Matt could train his willy dog Flute to behave like the sled dogs. Then there is Alex, who on her first day exudes confidence but with the skills to back it up. Business seems to be getting off to a great start, now if Matt could only figure out how to keep track of his operating costs, use formulas to show salaries and keep things running for at least six weeks, he just might pass his math class.
The last story I read by Terry Lynn Johnson was Ice Dogs, it was a wonderful action-packed adventure story set during the harsh winter conditions of Alaska where a girl gets lost while out dog sledding and then stumbles upon an injured boy who she tries to rescue, a riveting story you shouldn't miss this one either. In Sled Dog School, Johnson continues to draw from her experiences of running Alaskan huskies and writes a story geared this time toward younger children. There's plenty of action alternating with chapters of Matt's and his classmate's progress on their assignment at school. The dangers the kids face while learning to dog sled seemed to match the age of the intended audience while keeping the action moving, being informative and adding just the right amount of humor. There are these funny scenes where Tubbs is trying to avoid the "poop spray" and Alex is flying through the air when she gets thrown from the sled. Children can easily relate to Matt's struggles over asking for help from his parents or teachers and that in the end, it takes courage to ask for help. Matt also learned how to be a better sled dog teacher and that there is a big difference between doing something he loves like dog sledding using his rote memory skills and needing to break things down into steps in order to be able to teach it to Tubbs and Alex. Matt's parents were also wonderful, I really enjoyed how Matt's mom emphasized with him that it wasn't the grade on his schoolwork that she was most worried about, but what he learned from it. That "education is about much more than going to school. It's about learning from experiences." Included at the back of the book are a glossary of terms, and a detailed picture identifying the different parts of the sled and positioning of the sled dog team. With themes of friendship and overcoming struggles at school, I would recommend Sled Dog School to kids who enjoy animal stories, reading about sled dogs and mushing.