Rez Dogs

by Joseph Bruchac

Hardcover, 2021

Call number



From the U.S.'s foremost Indigenous children's author comes a middle grade verse novel set during the COVID-19 pandemic, about a Wabanaki girl's quarantine on her grandparents' reservation and the local dog that becomes her best friend

Malian loves spending time with her grandparents at their home on a Wabanaki reservation. She’s there for a visit when, suddenly, all travel shuts down. There’s a new virus making people sick, and Malian will have to stay with her grandparents for the duration.

Everyone is worried about the pandemic, but Malian knows how to keep her family and community safe: She protects her grandparents, and they protect her. She doesn’t go outside to play with friends, she helps her grandparents use video chat, and she listens to and learns from their stories. And when Malsum, one of the dogs living on the rez, shows up at their door, Malian’s family knows that he’ll protect them too.

Told in verse inspired by oral storytelling, this novel about the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the ways Malian’s community has cared for one another through plagues of the past, and how they keep caring for one another today.



Dial Books for Young Readers,US (2021), 192 pages

User reviews

LibraryThing member villemezbrown
A young girl shelters in place with her grandparents on a Wabanaki reservation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Listening to their stories about their experience at residential schools, her ancestors, and her people's spirituality she draws connections between her family history and what is happening
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to her in the present day. And there is a big wonderful dog who has adopted her and provides protection and guidance. Nice!

(A favorite Steinbeck passage I choose to interpret without irony: The paintings on the wall were largely preoccupied with the amazing heroism of large dogs faced with imperiled children. Nor water nor fire nor earthquake could do in a child so long as a big dog was available.)

With only a narrow column of text on each page (one to five words per line), it's a quick read to boot. Very nice!
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LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
The covid pandemic lockdown has separated Malian and her parents--Malian is staying with her grandparents on the reservation while her parents are back home. Malian faces the common challenges of kids during this time: attending school online with a spotty wifi connection, missing her friends, and
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not being able to do her usual activities. But Malian loves spending time with her grandparents and listening to their storytelling, and feeling connected to life on the reservation. A wolf-like dog with white spots above its eyes shows up one day and provides comfort and protection. A quiet and agreeable story; a balm for these times. Malian's grandparents provide a gentle heft that is humorous and comforting.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
A spare and beautiful story in verse -- Malian is on the Penacook reservation visiting her grandparents when lockdown happened, now staying with them indefinitely, parents in Boston. There's nothing in here that's inappropriate for younger readers, although there's a certain sophistication that
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gives the quietly unfolding story depth. In many ways, the book is a vehicle for indigenous stories and history -- offers opportunities to talk about the long history of removing children from indigenous families in this country, the forced sterilization of women, and the genocidal effect of disease on indigenous nations -- big subjects that are deftly and gently handled. It centers on a dog who has newly adopted Malian and her grandparents, and who is as fiercely protective of them as she is. Great read!

Advanced readers copy provided by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
When shelter-in-place orders are enacted to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, Malian ends up spending far longer at her grandparents’ home on a Wabanaki reservation than her social visit was meant to be. She misses her parents back home in Boston and has trouble connecting to her virtual
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classroom with the spotty Wifi. But, she loves spending more time with her grandparents and hearing their stories, both familial and spiritual. And, one day, a stray dog appears out of nowhere and installs itself in their yard as their very own guard dog.

This was an interesting read, although not really quite what I had expected. The only other book I read by Bruchac was a work of historical fiction, so it was a gear shift to pick up his realistic fiction, especially one rooted so very much in-the-moment (the moment of two years, but we are still dealing with the consequences of events from then).

Also, flipping through the book before I read it, I noticed it was a novel in verse. However, it really isn’t. While the text is broken up into lines and stanzas rather than sentences and paragraphs, the writing is very much prose. There’s no rhyming schemes; there’s no standalone poems. There’s short chapters that lead logically from one to the next. There’s dialogue and there’s descriptive text as well. The downside is that non-poetry fans might be turned off by seeing what looks like a novel in verse (and poetry fans might be disappointed that it isn’t); the plus side is that the book reads much faster than one might expect based on the overall page length.

Malian seems like a good kid without being a goody-two-shoes. Her grandparents are both interesting characters, although it does seem a little like her grandmother is “the best” at too many things (e.g., making frybread everyone considers the tastiest on the reservation, winning prizes for her beadwork, etc.). Like Malian, I loved hearing their stories. They developed the characters of the story, including the ones with little “screen time” like Malian’s parents, as well as provided information about historical relations between indigenous and non-indigenous people. In addition, they relayed several creation stories, many of which were new to me as a reader. In particular, I enjoyed learning that there was a story for the “person’s summer” (more casually referred to as “Indian summer”).

All in all, Bruchac manages to talk about a lot of heavy topics, including racism and disease, without sounding overly didactic and somehow still having an overall upbeat story.
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0593326210 / 9780593326213
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