Monday, March 23, 2020

A Friend Indeed! Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson

Harry can't resist squirrels. The next morning, when Olivia lets him out back, he sees one race along the fence, and takes off after it. Olivia didn't know to check the latch on the gate, and it has come loose. Harry finds himself in the front yard and chases the squirrel all the way to the end of the Maggie's street. Harvey runs until a bouquet of dog scents lures him to a forest path. His curiosity takes him farther and farther from his home.

Maggie has gone on a family trip, leaving a friend to dog-sit, and soon Harvey is lost in places where he's never been, hungry, dirty, and chased by unfriendly dogs. But he is lucky to be found by Austin, a thirteen-year-old on his way to the volunteer job his grandfather makes him do at the retirement home where he works, and Austin takes him along to wait with the kind receptionist while he works. Austin makes a photograph of Harvey, whose name is on his collar and posts 50 photocopied lost-dog posters around town, but of course Maggie is far away.

At the retirement home there is one resident Austin dreads to deal with, the grumpy old Mr. Pinkerton, who is strangely drawn to Harvey.
"I had a dog. His name was General," Mr. Pickering said.

And soon Austin finds himself daily in the isolated and gruff Mr. Pickering's room listening to a continuing story of his life in the 1930s on a drought-ridden prairie farm where packs of feral dogs ranged in the dying woods and dust storms covered the dead fields deep in dust from far away. Austin is caught up in the story of a long-ago and very different world, the fatherless girl named Bertie rescued from starvation in a fallen-down shack, and the fearless love of his dog who dies defending the homestead from a marauding gang of outlaws who come to their farmhouse to steal everything they have left.

Meanwhile Maggie returns and begins a search for Harvey, but somehow Austin knows that Harvey has to stay with him for a while longer. Mr. Pickering needs Harvey for a story he has to tell, and he does, dying with Harvey beside him.

Colleen Nelson's Harvey Comes Home (The Harvey Stories) (Pajama Press, 2019) begins with a simple lost dog story and becomes much more. In Nelson's simple storytelling, her character-driven narration is told in the third person voice of Maggie, Austin, and Harvey himself, along with Mr. Pickering's moving memories set around the story of his dog, General. Austin is the pivotal character, the one with a moral choice to make that will ensure the best ending of Harvey's story for all three of them, a joyful and heartrending story of life and love and loyalty. Readers will find themselves swallowing back a lump in their throats as Harvey loses himself and perhaps a tear as Mr. Pickering finds himself along the way in this moving novel for middle graders.

This middle-reader fiction book is perfect for fifth, sixth and seventh grade classroom novel studies, perfect for teaching the elements of fiction and of human values.

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