Sit, Stay, Love by J.J. Howard

I just finished J.J. Howard‘s Sit, Stay, Love (Scholastic, 2016), a middle grades realistic fiction text about a young girl named Cecelia’s first love(s).  I was excited to read this book because it’s about a pug (and my Aunt Cec had a wonderful pug named Mack) and the author is an English teacher in Florida!  #loveFloridateachers

Cecilia is obsessed with dogs and volunteers at Orphan Paws to help prepare rescue dogs for their forever home. But when the house that she shares with her dad (her mom left them a while ago) is condemned after a fire and she has to live with her aunt, Cecilia’s dream of owning her very own dog vanishes. In addition, her best and only friend Mel just moved away, so her time is consumed with volunteering and Skyping Mel. But when a new pug whom Cecilia names Potato comes to Orphan Paws, she falls in love. What ray of hope she has of adopting Potato is ruined when the most popular kid in her class Eric comes in to adopt Potato. After befriending Eric’s twin Lily and agreeing to help train Potato to be a show dog in order to earn money for her dad, Cecilia slowly learns that she may be falling in love with someone else beside Potato.

This was a book that grew on me. When I first started reading, I found some of the content to be a bit hackneyed. I wondered how Howard’s book about a middle grades girl who loves dogs would be any different from other books about young girls and dogs. But as I read more and more, I came to appreciate the layers in Howard’s piece.  Sit, Stay, Love presents a young girl being raised by her father; her mother is completely absent from the story. And whereas her father attended school at night to become a lawyer, he is far from the image of a lucrative attorney. Struggling with financial issues, Cecilia and her father’s condition is only worsened when their house is condemned because of a fire.

Juxtaposing Cecilia’s meager housing situation (she lives with her father and her aunt after the fire) is the Chung family, a rich Korean family who shows purebred dogs. This book tackles some financial stereotypes and presents a biracial middle grades relationship without being only about issues of money and race.

My children’s literature course had two graduate students come to speak about issues of race this morning. And one of the points that they raised was that students need books that are specifically about issues of race but they also need books that normalize particular minority racial groups. And I think Sit, Stay, Love does just this.

I enjoyed the theme of resilience in the book. In the final pages, Cecilia thinks, “I looked down at the happy little dog in my lap. He’d taught me so much. Because he was brave enough to trust people, after everything that had happened to him, somehow I’d started to be just a little bit brave, too” (p. 244). I love the message of hope here. Cecilia does not have the perfect situation. In many ways, Potato is used metonymously to represent Cecilia’s life struggles.   Yet, she finds solace in helping shelter dogs and eventually learns that sometimes we have to trust others to help ourselves. This is a powerful message – and one that will resonant with many middle grades students.

Here are some teaching ideas for Sit, Stay, Love:

(1) There are several stereotypes challenged in the text. Whereas Cecilia’s father is a lawyer, he still struggles to make ends meet. Likewise, students at school, including Cecilia, have believed particular rumors about the Chung family.  Having students examine this text’s treatment of socioeconomic class will help them have a more discerning eye toward presentations of class.

(2) Cecilia narrates the story and so readers do not get too much from the perspective of Cecilia’s dad. Asking students to write a chapter from Cecilia’s dad’s perspective would give them an opportunity to consider how he feels about Cecilia’s growth throughout the book.

(3) One of my awesome student teachers shared Pixton, a comic-maker app with me the other week. Her students were making awesome comics after reading Persepolis. I would love to see what students could do with Pixton as they recreated Sit, Stay, Love in comic form.

Would love to hear what you think of Sit, Stay, Love or see your comic strip versions!  Happy reading!

Rating: img-thingimg-thingimg-thing

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