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Belle's Challenge

Belle's Challenge
Author: Constance Gotch

Illustrator: John Cogan

ISBN: 978-1-932926-22-4
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Price: $12.95
Pages: 194

Moving to New Mexico is quite a shock for Belle and her owner, Darcy Simmons; so very different from their home in Illinois. But Darcy and Belle quickly make new friends in their neighbors Susan and her Airedale Terrier, Jazzy. Life would be great in their new home, if it wasn't for the dog-hating girl across the way, Emily Robinson. If that wasn't bad enough for Belle, there's no agility club in town and Darcy sstarts training her and Buster to become therapy dogs, whatever that is.

Learning to be a therapy dog for Belle is so different than becoming a great agility dog, especially when she doesn't understand the importance. Buster seems to be a natural at it, and that irritates Belle even more. When Emily falsely accuses Belle of biting her, Belle's life takes a turn for the worse. Can Belle overcome the challenges of being a good therapy dog, while handling the meanness she and Darcy face from Emily?

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Reviews

Midwest Book Review, Children's Bookwatch, Diane Donovan, Editor

Changing paths in one's life can be quite daunting, even for a dog. "Belle's Challenge" is a charming young adult novel of dogs and their keepers, telling Darcy Simmons and her dog Belle, and the new friends and dogs they meet in New Mexico. Learning to train in new ways, "Belle's Challenge" is a heartwarming read of canine conflict and love, very much recommended for dog lovers of any age.


Foreword Review

As if moving from Illinois to New Mexico wasnít challenge enough for Belle, a heeler that Darcy saved from abusive owners, she also discovers that there is no agility club in which she can compete.

Darcy, Belle and her lab, Buster, soon meet their neighbor, Susan, and her airedale terrier, Jazzy, and they become fast friends. Unfortunately, across their backyard, the mayor lives with his dog-hating daughter, Emily, and her younger sister, Katherine. To keep Belle busy, Darcy enrolls the dogs in Canine Good Citizen classes and begins teaching them how to work as Reading Therapy Dogs at the library.

Belle hates just lying there while kids read to her. When Katherine, Emilyís sister, comes to read to the therapy dogs, Emily and her dog-fearing mother make things difficult for Darcy and her dogs. No one can deny Katherineís progress, however, and Belle learns that she can accomplish things, even if she finds them very difficult.

This book is the third, and last, in a trilogy about Darcy and Belle. Belle starts out as an abused puppy who has to learn to find her confidence. Each book is narrated by Belle, who has come a long way in learning to trust people and other animals. This book tests that trust by introducing Emily, a competitive, arrogant girl who challenges both Darcy and Belle with her lies and mean behavior.

While the book can be pedantic at times, it teaches the reader a powerful lesson about doing what is right, even if it might not be the most comfortable thing to do. Even though Darcy and Belleís confidence is tested, they believe in themselves and one another and are able to support a child who is less confident. The theme of bullying is addressed honestly, incorporating various methods to get Emily to stop being so cruel. Many of the methods donít work with her because she is in need of counseling, a concept that is addressed at the end.

Characters are very well-developed. Darcy is a young lady who has grown in confidence, along with Belle. Her new friend Susan also has the opportunity to demonstrate her patience, or lack-thereof, with Emily. The plot is well-developed as well, and readers will be able to pick up the story line, even if they did not read the previous two books, Belleís Star and Belleís Trial.

Gotsch clearly knows dogs well. Belleís on-the-go heeler personality shines through, as does Busterís lackadaisical Labrador retriever attitude. The fact that the dog, Belle, narrates the story will appeal to the target audience of ages ten to fourteen. Belle often comments on new people to the scene by describing the scent they give off to her. Each person seems to have a signature scent, which changes as their mood changes. Along with that, each chapter is headed by an illustration which gives the reader an opportunity to make inferences about what will occur next.


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