Starting middle school isn’t easy. Neither is moving to a new town. But getting a sweet puppy? That’s fun, and it’s part of a new book aimed at readers in fifth grade and up that’s a touching tale perfect for reading together.
“Maxi’s Secrets (or what you can learn from a dog),” by Maine author Lynn Plourde, is a book about a big, loveable dog that enters the life of a small-for-his-age boy, Timminy, in middle school who’s new to town — and to his school. That dog, the aforementioned Maxi, a Great Pyrenees, helps Timminy find friendship, learn more about being a better person and grow up some.
Among the touchstones of this book are the secrets of Maxi shared throughout, including the first: “Secret #1: You can learn a lot from a dog you love.”
While Maxi has many secrets, her fate isn’t one of them. In fact, in the second line of the book Plourde exposes something big that will happen later: Before the book is over, the loveable dog, which happens to be deaf, will die. But while that’s a part of the book, it’s not the crux of this touching tale that’s equally perfect for reading aloud as it is for reading to yourself.
That’s not to say Maxi’s death isn’t sad; it is. It’s wrenching. But there’s also much more to this story as Timminy finds his place in his new school, makes friends and suffers bullying. It’s about love and loss, friendship and mistakes and second chances.
It’s a bittersweet story but a beautiful one.
Plourde, a former speech therapist who worked in public schools for 21 years, based the character of Maxi on her own dog, Maggie, that died three years ago.
“Maggie was a wild, crazy dog that didn’t always listen. I see Maxi as a wild, crazy dog who didn’t always listen [partially because she’s deaf],” Plourde said.
The similarities don’t end there. Plourde said that although Maggie was an Irish setter mix and could hear, both dogs can be described as really “loveable.” Also, Maxi’s adventures share similarities with Maggie’s. For instance, Maggie really did have a run-in with a porcupine, rolled in turkey poop and had to be put down. “I could also fall back on my Maggie truths,” Plourde said.
This is Plourde’s 31st book but her first middle-grade novel. Her previous works have been picture dogs aimed at younger readers. “I am sort of surprised that the light bulb never went off before to do a middle-grade novel,” Plourde said. This story, she said, demanded longer form.
However, though this is a bigger story with “more threads to weave together,” Plourde employed a similar process to write it as she uses for her picture books: She reads aloud each line as she writes. That’s probably why this book lends itself so much to reading out loud.
“People are probably going to say that doesn’t make sense, but that’s the process that works for me,” Plourde said.
Early reaction to the book has been positive.
“Teachers and librarians are like, ‘I am so excited for this book,’” Plourde said.
Plourde has two more picture books coming out this year: “Bella’s Fall Coat,” which has an official release date of next month but is already for sale in some bookstores, and “Baby Bear’s Not Hibernating,” due out in October.
Plourde will be signing books at The Briar Patch on Central Street in Downtown Bangor from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday. The event, in collaboration with the Bangor Humane Society, will benefit the organization in honor of National Dog Day, which is Friday. A portion of proceeds from sales Thursday will be donated to BHS.
Plourde also will be signing books at an event from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Barnes and Noble in Augusta. That event will benefit the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.