Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

ImageAs many of you know, online debates about whether or not our beloved Hound Dog True would garner major book awards last year sparked Colby Sharp and me to start the Nerdy Book Club awards and this blog. Considering the importance of this book to Nerdy lore, it’s surprising that we haven’t posted a review of Hound Dog True before now.

If you’ve read Hound Dog True, it shouldn’t surprise you at all.

This blog is all about sharing—our reading and writing lives, the books we love, and our work with children. But have you ever read a book and loved it so much that you didn’t want to share it with anyone? As if the moment you told someone, the book would melt like a snowflake in a hot palm or wilt like a picked flower.

This is how I feel about Hound Dog True. Some books you read and some books read you and some books fit right under your ribs, so you can carry them with you.

Writing about Hound Dog True scares me because I don’t want to ruin it for myself. My emotional attachment to the book mixes with my feelings for every student I have passed the book to this year. Nerdy proclaims our book love to the world, but Hound Dog True whispers why books matter to readers in the first place.

You see what I mean? 200 words in and I still haven’t written about the book at all. It’s my plan to convince you to read Hound Dog True without giving one piece of it away. I need to keep it.

Here is the publisher’s blurb if that helps:

Do not let a mop sit overnight in water.

Fix things before they get too big for fixing.

Custodial wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down. She has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his custodial apprentice at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School. One week until school starts and she has to be the new girl again. But if she can be Uncle Potluck’s apprentice, she’ll have important work to do during lunch and recess. Work that will keep her safely away from the other fifth graders. But when her custodial wisdom goes all wrong, Mattie’s plan comes crashing down. And only then does she begin to see how one small, brave act can lead to a friend who is hound dog true.


I could rave about the writing. I could tell you how many times I cried while I was laughing. I could tell you that I wrote down many lines from this book, so I could memorize them. I could tell you that I wish I had an Uncle Potluck in my life and that the best I can probably do now is try to be Uncle Potluck for someone else on my good days.

I could tell you that the only thing I don’t like about Linda Urban’s writing is that there isn’t enough of it. That’s not true, Linda. You take as long as you need. Your books are worth the wait. Every. Single. Word. Colby Sharp claims that Hound Dog True is “Winn-Dixie perfect” and the comparison makes me smile. I imagine that India Opal and Mattie could be friends. Of course, Opal would do most of the talking.

Mattie is the sort of kid that sticks with you because you know her. I have kids like Mattie Breen in my class every year. They sit in the back of the class, never raise their hands, and look out the window as if they just want to be away. Kids who I know have more going on inside them, but I am not sure what it is that makes them silent and frightened and closed.

I hope that our classroom community of readers and writers allows many children a space to reveal a bit of themselves, but I know that it doesn’t reach all of them. That’s a teacher’s nightmare, yes? The ones who slipped away without feeling that I saw them. Among the charming troublemakers, and the teacher pleasers, and the kids who talk to me every day about everything–from their brother’s new girlfriend to their soccer game on Saturday—it is the children who only talk to me with their silence who haunt me.

Books have always been an inroad for me to talk to anyone, but for kids like Mattie Breen—worried and hiding—books like Hound Dog True give me a way to say, “Here is this book. When you read it, we can talk if you want. The book tells you what I want you know. I see you. I know how it is.”

The silent girl in the back with the giant blue eyes needs me to be a hound dog true teacher and I need Uncle Potluck and Linda to help me because my words aren’t enough.

Walking by that desk near the window, I stop to open the blinds. I can wait until she is ready. For a year or three days or two minutes we both look out the window and wish we were away. Quietly she says, “Thank you for the book. You gave it to me because you think Mattie is like me, didn’t you?”

And I reply, “I gave it to you because Mattie is like both of us, and now you know.”

Kate Messner’s interview with Linda Urban

Linda Urban’s website

Donalyn Miller is a sixth grade language arts teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday.