Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
Saving Zasha

Saving Zasha

Spring 2011 Historical Fiction
Ages: 9 - 12 yrs.
Author: Randi Barrow
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545206327
Hardcover Price: $16.99

World War II has just ended at the outset of this story about 13-year-old Mikhail, his older brother Nikolai, and young sister who live on a small farm with their mother in rural Russia. They are a strong, loving family, struggling to survive while they wait for their father to return from the war.

Although the war is over, it’s a stark time. Among the country’s casualties were its dogs. Through starvation, illness, neglect or combat, the entire population has been decimated. So when Mikhail finds a wounded soldier in the woods near their farm, along with his German Shepherd Zasha, it is a joyous, but loaded, discovery.

The soldier’s wound is severe; he dies despite Mikhail’s mothers efforts to save him. Zasha, however, is strong and beautiful. She’s a German Shepherd, though, and in the wake of bitter combat with Germany, any association with the country is vilified. Harboring a German Shepherd (they were routinely shot on sight) carried risk.

Against her better judgment, Mikhail’s mother lets her children keep and hide Zasha. Their secret is soon detected. Dog hair is spotted on the dead soldier’s coat after Mikhail’s mother delivers his body to the police. Shortly after, a menacing group of dog thieves appears at the farm, followed by others. The boys find an unlikely ally in the gruff ex-soldier Dmitri who the government has tasked with breeding a new super dog.

It may be difficult for readers to imagine a world without dogs. But while the characters are fictional, the historical context is true. After the war, the Russian government assigned a military kennel the task of breeding a new Russian dog to repopulate the country. Author Randi Barrow provides a detailed account in an afterward. This is an engaging story of bravery, love, and the senseless heartbreak of war.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2011 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

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