What You Need to Know:|
• At the age of five, Ivan's mother and grandmother die, and he ends up on the streets of Russia along with thousands
of other homeless children. Amazingly, a pack of wild dogs becomes his means of survival.
• Ivan doesn't witness the act, but he comes to understand that his mother was murdered by her boyfriend.
• There is a reference to a young girl being too good to "go with men", but there are no details beyond that point.
• Ivan is confronted with drugs, alcohol, starvation, and violence, reflecting the inhumanities of life on the streets.
• Short chapters and plenty of action keep this story moving quickly.
• This book is a Junior Library Guild Selection.
• According to the Author's Note, this book was inspired by a true story.
This story is so heartbreaking, it's hard to believe that it is based on a true story, but it is. According to the Author's Note, things became so bad after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, that somewhere between 80,000 and 2 million children ended up living on the streets. Very often, their parents were still alive, but either they had fallen victim to drugs and alcohol and become abusive, or they simply could no longer afford to care for their own families. "The children were both ever-present and subtly invisible - a backdrop, at best, to city life." In order to survive, most of them formed groups or joined gangs of children, but one boy, Ivan Mishukov, survived by banding together with a pack of feral street dogs.
In The Dogs of Winter, readers get a first-person account of this way of life from young Ivan Andreovich, a fictional version of the real Ivan Mishukov. Until he's five years-old, Ivan lives with his mother and grandmother, has plenty of food to eat and goes to school every day. "This is the way I thought the world would always be." he tells readers. But, life is about to change drastically for Ivan.
When his grandmother dies, his mother turns to alcohol and an abusive boyfriend whose "...smile was big, but did not reach his eyes." When his mother loses her job, the fights with her boyfriend escalate until the night Ivan hears a loud crash and then nothing. Ivan isn't sure exactly what has happened. All he knows is that his mother is gone, and he is left with a very bad man. With no explanation, the boyfriend takes Ivan to the city and simply leaves him there.
At the age of five, Ivan is suddenly on his own in a strange place. At first, he searches for his mother but eventually comes to understand that the red stain he saw in their apartment was her blood. Her boyfriend must have killed her. He joins a group of children who are already living on the streets, but he is shocked by their ways. They steal, drink, do drugs, and fight amongst themselves. Despite the fact that he has no food or shelter and has only the clothes on his back, Ivan still believes the things his mother had taught him like don't steal, don't lie, be polite, the police will help, and you must go to school. Sadly, none of these rules matter in Ivan's new world.
It seems impossible for a five year-old boy to survive under such circumstances, but when Ivan discovers the dogs, they literally save him. They provide him with warmth, kindness, food, and a sense of family. Ivan lives among them for several years, begging for food and hiding from brutal gangs and untrustworthy policemen. They have occasional moments of happiness, playing in the snow or running through the forest, and they encounter a few compassionate people, but most of their time is spent meeting the challenges of life on the streets.
Ivan's story is unquestionably one of despair and misery with only a few uplifting moments, but his strength and determination to survive are truly inspirational. He becomes resourceful and maintains his values. Despite many setbacks and disappointments, he refuses to steal or join in when other kids indulge in bad behavior. It's also fascinating to see how his relationship with the dogs develops and how he slowly becomes part of their pack, even howling and growling as he interacts with them. Even more fascinating is how the dogs are actually a better support system than the human children!
2012, 320 pages
Animals, Books for Boys, Character/Values, Determination, Ethnicity/Culture, Good Book Club Selection, History, Identity, Life Challenges
• Can you imagine something like this happening where you live?
• Why doesn't Ivan refer to the boyfriend by name?
• Ivan holds onto certain things: his mother's button, his fairytales and his tooth. What do they mean to him?
• What do his different names, Mishka, Malchik, Mowgli, mean to him?
• Do you think you could have survived if you were in Ivan's situation?
• What are the key ingredients to his survival?
• Did this story change how you view the dogs that you know?
• Why were the children so cruel to each other?
• Why do you think that Rudy and several other characters show small acts of kindness?
• Why do so few people come to the aid of these children?
• Was Ivan better off with the dogs or with the other kids living on the streets?
• Did this story change the way you feel about homeless people?
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