Mine for Keeps by Jean Little
Sally has cerebral palsy. Her parents just didn’t have suitable resources and therapies for Sally at home(this book was written in the sixties- keep that in mind), so she has been living at a special school for handicapped children. Now that she’s learned to be more independent her greatest wish is coming true, she’s going home to live with her family. Even though she knows she should be excited, Sally is scared. She’s going from a place where everyone is different to a school where her motor control issues will definitely make her stand out from her classmates. The transition to regular school is not easy for Sally and friendships are slow in coming, but when Sally gets a little dog all of her own, her struggles just don’t seem so overwhelming anymore. And slowly (with the help of her Westie Susie) Sally makes friends and even finds the strength to reach out others who need her help.
I first read this Jean Little book when I was in elementary school and was thrilled to find that despite its age, it’s still a sweet story with useful and informative writing about life with a disability (Little herself has been partially blind since birth and has taught children with disabilities making these issues very personal.) I was particularly impressed with the explanations about modifications to Sally’s environment to make her life easier, the wonderful explanation Sally gives her sister to show that everyone with cerebral palsy is affected differently and the parents’ explanation of why Sally was sent away to live.
Sally’s dog Susie doesn’t make an appearance until about halfway through, but from that point forward, Mine for Keeps is all dogs, all the time, as Sally and her friends put together a dog training school in an effort to inspire an unhappy boy who has been ill.
My only small hesitation with this book is that there’s one small scene where Sally is very upset because she’s worried she won’t be able to do something and her mother comes and tells a story about when Sally was little and wouldn’t go in the water and they teased her by calling her Scarey and eventually her father made her go in even though she was scared. And then she liked the water and it was okay. I think some parents will object to this family’s tactics. It’s really just such a small scene in an otherwise excellent book that I hope many can get past that.
Find it if You Can Follow-Up: Spring Begins in March is the sequel to this and follows little sister Meg’s struggles in school, as well as Meg’s relationship with her own little dog. My library didn’t have it, but if yours does, I trust Jean Little enough to say check it out as well!
Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – “darn,” “stupid,”
Death, Violence and Gore – Mindy refers to a boy in Sally’s class as a “darling little boy,” but brother Kent says if the boy knew he was being talked about that way he strangle Mindy with his bare hands. 4 year old Meg threatens “I’ll shoot you. I’ll kill you with my bare hands.” Two boys fight with kicking, knocking down and hitting.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Dogs growl and they tell a story about a dog that bit someone and was going to have to be killed but was saved through training. Sal’s brother and sister talk about what they would do if the school burned down. Sal’s disability may seem scary or confusing to some. Illness plays a large part in this book. A boy has been very ill with rheumatic fever and suffers some permanent effects. There’s also a measles outbreak.