Monday, August 19, 2013

Margarita Engle's "Mountain Dog"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, recipient of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino/a. Other novels in verse about the island include The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Wild Book, and most recently, The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist. Engle has received two Pura Belpré Awards, two Pura Belpré Honors, three Américas Awards, and the Jane Addams Peace Award, among others. Books for younger children include Summer Birds, When You Wander, and Mountain Dog.

Engle lives in central California, where she enjoys hiking and helping her husband with his volunteer work for various wilderness search and rescue dog programs.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of Mountain Dog:
Mountain Dog is the story of Tony, a Latino boy from an urban dog-fighting background. When his mother is arrested, he’s sent into foster care with his uncle, a forest ranger in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. Gabe, the uncle’s SAR dog, is a goofy, but hardworking Chocolate Labrador Retriever who changes Tony’s life.

I think Mountain Dog is adventurous enough to become a wonderful dog movie for the whole family. The book grew from a short story I wrote called "Trail Magic," which was published in Ann Martin’s middle grade anthology, Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories. When Ann Martin (super-famous for her Babysitters’ Club books and movie) invited me to expand the short story into a full-length chapter book for 8 to 12 year olds, I was thrilled, but terrified. Then she offered to edit the manuscript herself, and she told me I could write it any way I wanted, even in verse. Suddenly, the scary project started to sound exciting. I had already written When You Wander, a search and rescue dog picture book for younger children, as well as numerous historical verse novels about Cuba. I also had a great deal of personal experience with search and rescue dogs. The resulting book includes fictionalized versions of many of the real life searches my husband and other local SAR dog handlers have experienced. So I think the movie would offer authenticity, as well as adventure, and it could help children understand topics as varied as kindness to animals, hiking safety, and Hispanic Heritage Month. (You have to read the book to see why I include the latter!)

Xolo Maridueña (who plays Victor on the Parenthood TV series) would be perfect for the role of Tony. In fact, the book’s beautiful illustrations by Olga and Alexey Ivanov portray a sensitive boy who looks so much like handsome young Xolo, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Benjamin Bratt would be ideal as Tony’s kind, but reclusive, uncle, and Zoe Saldaña as his troubled mother. Choosing the perfect Chocolate Lab would be the only challenge. He would have to be a dog so energetic and imaginative that he’s willing to chase the moon, just because it’s round, and reminds him of a tennis ball. This is a dog that thinks in rhymes, and is mystified by the stupidity of the human nose. He just doesn’t understand why we can’t find lost people ourselves. Can’t we smell their scent trail? It would take a skilled film director and brilliant cinematography to convey Gabe’s fascinating dog-thoughts.
Learn more about the book and author at Margarita Engle's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue