March 15, 2011

Book Talk: Saving Zasha

Now we have a Newbery Contender for 2011!
Yes, Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow is one to watch.
This book takes place in Northern Russia not long after World War II has ended.  The country is still suffering the effects of the war- very little gasoline and food, and many of the men are still missing or dead from their battle against Germany.  The people of Russia are so angry with Germany that they have banned all things German, including dogs, namely, German Shepherds.
When Mikhail is out in the woods one afternoon, he finds an injured soldier and his dog- a German Shepherd named Zasha.  Mikhail helps the man onto his horse and back to his home where his mother, little sister Rina and older brother Nikolai run to his aid.  They get the man inside and clean him up and help him get comfortable.  When Mikhail's mother tries to shoo the dog from the house, the man puts up a fight and the dog is allowed to stay by his side.  Zasha is still by his side in the morning.  Mikhail discovered that the man died during the night.
The family decides that they must take the dead man into town and explain what happened to the police.  The children agree, but want to keep the dog.  Their family has been so sad and lonely since their father went missing during the war.  Their mother concedes and the dog is allowed to stay with them.  However, they must keep Zasha hidden.  People are not allowed to have dogs after the war, and a German Shepherd would be killed on site.  Nikolai tells his family that he saw a Russian soldier shoot and kill 2 German Shepherds in the street.  He also believes that the man they tried to save died trying to protect his dog.
When they arrive at the police station, they tell their story, leaving out the part about the dog.  While they are there, Irina, a newspaper reporter arrives, followed by the editor's nosy and snooty daughter, Katia.  Immediately Katia is in the middle of the discussion of the dead man.  She announces that she will investigate and find the story his death.  This makes Mikhail very nervous, because Katia is one of his least favorite people and he doesn't appreciate her sticking her nose into his business.
Once back at the farm, the family must decide how to keep Zasha and the family safe.  The boys find several hiding places to keep Zasha in case of an emergency.  The family falls in love with her, and she seems to bring happiness to all of them.  The boys spend time training her and she catches on quickly. As promised, Katia does investigate the death of the mystery man and ends up at the farm on several occasions.  Her guess is that the man had a dog and he was killed trying to protect it.  She tells Mikhail that she found dog hairs on the dead man's coat.  She took a sample of the hairs and discovered that the dog is a German Shepherd.  She suspects that Mikhail is hiding the dog and tells him that anyone found with a German Shepherd will be considered a traitor and the dog will be killed.
When a truck carrying 2 dog thieves show up at the farm, Mikhail and Nikolai know they have to do something more to protect Zasha.  When the dead man's wife shows up, they know that they have to tell the truth about the dog.  When a mysterious soldier claims to be opening a dog kennel, they think they have found the solution to their problem.  Mikhail will stop at nothing to keep Zasha safe.  He promises her that he will never, ever leave her... will he be able to keep his promise?

During World War II, dogs were used by the Russians in the war effort.  Dogs carried messages through battle fields, dogs were used to guard prisoners and sniff out lost soldiers.  One of the most disturbing jobs that dogs held was to carry a bomb strapped on their back, approach a German tank and blow it, and themselves up.  Russia deployed of 40,000 Anti-Tank dogs during WWII.  Once the German soldiers caught on, they were ordered to shoot all dogs on site.   Because of this, dogs disappeared from Russia.  When the government realized this, they decided to make a Russian Super Dog, and set up an official government office (The Red Star Kennel) in Moscow to take charge of breeding this super dog.  In 1955, Russia had created The Russian Black Terrier, also known as the Russian Pearl.  This dog weighed between 80 and 100 pounds and stood 2 and 1/2 feet high.  The Black Russian Terrier is a working class dog that loves to play with children and is protective (not aggressive).  Many breeds were used to create this Super Dog, including Rottweiler, The Giant Schnauzer, Great Dane and German Shepherd.  Anti Tank Dogs were trained in Russia until 1996. Randi Barrow explains that this book is a work of fiction that was inspired by the events following WWII in Russia. 
Kids at Lemme School love to read books about dogs, and they get mad at me when the dog in the book dies!  I know that this book will fly off the shelf and will appeal to any child that is an animal lover.  This book is great for tricking an unsuspecting child into reading a historical fiction book!  They will learn something at the same time they enjoy a fabulous story and they won't even realize it!  This book sends a powerful message about what man is capable during war and how innocent lives are taken in the process.


  1. Okay; I am going to read this. But you must read my 2011 Newbery pick: The Trouble With May Amelia, by Jennifer Holm.

  2. @Kirby Larson
    I will have to wait until April 5th! I just put a hold on it at the library! I have already read another Newbery Contender- it's this little book called The Friendship Doll... have you heard of it?

  3. Thanks for the very complete review. This was one I was going to order without reading, and now I feel comfortable doing this.

  4. I hope there is going to be a book after saving zasha, because I just finished this