Taking Another Look: Teacher's Pet by Laurie Halse Anderson
Gran was right. Middle school is not as bad as I thought it would be.
My locker is two miles away from my classes, so I have to lug my books in a backpack all day. Each book feels like it weights fifty pounds.
All my teachers give us homework. I'm never going to get through it all, not even if I work all weekend. I wish I could go home right now and never come back.
But not yet. I have to suffer through one more class: science.
It began as a great summer for Maggie Mackenzie, helping out with her friends at her grandmother's veterinary clinic and going to the beach with the Vet Volunteers. But the final days of summer have been spoiled by the thoughts of starting seventh grade at John C. Calhoun Middle School.
Maggie's not anxious about having friends--her fellow volunteers, Brenna, Zoe, Sunita, and David, will be there too. But Maggie's knows she's not good at school: her reading is still a problem and she only finished sixth grade because Gran forced her to buckle down and work with a tutor to raise her grades. Now she has five teachers, each piling on more work than there was in sixth grade altogether. Maggie struggles with the fear that she's just not smart enough to make it through middle and high school, much less college and vet school as she had hoped.
But science class is a surprise. For openers, there is a dog in the classroom--a beautiful German Shepherd named Scout--and a long row of cages filled with mice, gerbils, hamsters, and a rabbit that she and the volunteers offer to care for. But the teacher, Mr. Carlson, is the big surprise. The dog, Scout, is there as his guide dog. Maggie learns that Carlson has been working with Scout only a week, and "dog whisperer" that she is, Maggie senses that Scout is anxious for the love and approval from his master which he is not getting.
That weekend, as Maggie struggles with her overwhelming school work, Mr. Carlson shows up at her grandmother's veterinary clinic, Dr. Mac's Place, remorseful because in his anxiety over being lost in the school building he has stepped on Scout's foot. As Gran treats the cut paw, Maggie learns that her teacher is also struggling with his new situation, having recently lost his sight and been forced to try to teach with the help of a service dog.
When Maggie fails her first science pop quiz, Mr. Carlson is empathetic with her feelings about the stepped-up requirements of middle school and promises to work with Gran and the school counselor to make sure that she learns and keeps up with her work. But it is not until Mr. Carlson and Scout are hit by a careless motorist and Scout suffers near fatal injuries that teacher and pupil realize that the changes required by their new situations are alike in many ways. As Mr. Carlson offers Maggie advice, she realizes that he is also speaking about his own problems from the heart.
Some kids make the adjustment to middle school with no problems. They make it look easy. But most of the kids I know stumble over something. They lose friends; they get cut from a team, or they run up against a tough subject for the first time. There are all kinds of obstacles. You need some help learning to go around them.
We'll do whatever it takes--arrange for extra help during study hall, help you with study skills, test your reading skills. You aren't stupid, Maggie. You just need--a guide.
Award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson's Teacher's Pet #7 (Vet Volunteers), (Puffin, 2009) now in a just-published paperback edition, offers an empathetic and unique look at the oft-portrayed middle school scene in this second book about Maggie Mackenzie, first introduced in Fight for Life #1 (Vet Volunteers). Like the other protagonists in this series, Maggie is a believable and appealing character whose love and desire for the humane care for animals gives her life meaning and direction, but who nonetheless deals daily with the problems of growing up and succeeding in school. Adult figures are also realistically presented, many (but not all) with good qualities, but who also confront the small and large problems that life brings. Incidental information about the training of guide dogs at the famous Seeing Eye facility add to the interest of this book.
Teacher's Pet #7 (Vet Volunteers),is another capable entry in an outstanding series for animal-loving 'tween readers. For other wildly popular books about young veterinary assistants, see Ben Baglio's prolific Animal Ark series.