This Side of Wild

illus. by Tim Jessell. 144p. ebook available. S. & S. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481451505.
Gr 5–8—A delightful compilation of insightful and entertaining tales of animal wisdom. In his first tale, Paulsen describes how, at age 67, he moved to Alaska, preparing to run the Iditarod again. Despite his wilderness prowess, the author says that he had once more become an "ignorant tourist" and needed someone to watch his back. In a characteristic moment of compassionate weakness, he acquired Corky, a sickly, eight-pound shelter poodle with rotten teeth. The "Corkinator" turned out to have "early-warning radar" and guarded him from predators large and small, using different barks to indicate what creature might be lurking and even looking in rear view mirrors for protection. Paulsen also includes an account of his experience with Gretchen, a dog he met in Texas while he was unhappily stationed in the army. Gretchen drank coffee at the kitchen table, knew a thousand words, and could communicate with head nods. Paulsen returned week after week to have actual soul-saving conversations with her, which gave him solace from his painful military life. In another story, birds and bees take over a rest stop in Arizona, successfully defending their territory against humans. Sketchy pen-and-ink illustrations add to the nostalgic atmosphere. Paulsen is the rare storyteller who offers wit, warmth, information, and sensitivity. However, though the book's gentle cover and the animal-related reminiscences will attract children, there are a few humorously off-color moments and some deeper, more philosophical musings that are more likely to resonate with a more mature audience.
VERDICT Older middle graders and younger teens, especially those who love dogs, will come away with a variety of emotions about wildlife—curiosity, respect, and awe—after reading this funny and perceptive work.

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