The Stray and the ­Strangers

Groundwood. Sept. 2020. 96p. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781773063812.
Gr 2-5–Kanella is a young stray dog, sneaking scraps from the fishermen at the dock and sleeping in a hollow tree, when boatloads of frightened strangers suddenly appear on the shores of her island home and change her life forever. She discovers compassion at the hands of a refugee camp volunteer, love in the arms of a lost boy, and hope in the eyes of those refusing to surrender. But what will become of Kanella when the camp where she has found a home is disbanded? Told from Kanella’s perspective, some effort may be needed to grasp the human elements of each plot turn. However, Heighton drops sensory clues along the way—the taste of salt when Kanella licks the face of someone who has been crying, a firm grasp on her collar when she needs protection. These hints, coupled with Iwai’s illustrations that open each chapter, will guide understanding. Those who have navigated the refugee experience or searched for a home will find a gentle and gratifyingly familiar tale, while readers who are unfamiliar with these subjects will hunger to learn more. There remain many open-ended questions about the characters’ fates once they disappear from Kanella’s small world, which may leave some readers unsatisfied and others inspired to create their own endings.
VERDICT A tender and compassionate story; what this short chapter book lacks in excitement and action it makes up for in its depiction of the human (and canine) element of the world refugee crisis. Recommended for purchase in large collections.

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