Title: The Trouble with TuckThe-Trouble-with-Tuck
Author: Theodore Taylor
Pages: 110
Reading Level: 10-13
Star Rating: ★★★

A little girl and a Golden Retriever. D’aww…

The Story.

Helen is not a confident girl. She’s not a pretty girl either. Her knobby knees and puggy nose are the torment of her life and have kept her locked in a state of insecurity and non-assertiveness. That is, until Tuck came.

When her father first brought Tuck home, he was a wriggling ball of Labrador cuteness. Now, he is a massive, solid, and courageous dog who loves Helen to death. She loves him with an equal ferocity, and is grateful to him for his friendship, which has finally helped her past her timidity. But all is not well with Tuck.

Helen first noticed the change the day he burst through the screen door to get to the cats outside. Then she noticed his increasing clumsiness, his tendency to bump into things. When Helen bring him to the vet, her fears are confirmed; Tuck is going blind!

What can they do to help poor Tuck? Will he be able to adjust to his new lifestyle? Or will they be forced to put him down?

Praises.

My favorite thing about this book is Tuck’s name. His mother was a prize-winning lab named Maid Marian. So, when Helen was deciding what to name her new puppy, her mother suggested that she follow in the Robin Hood theme. So she names him Friar Tuck Golden Boy and calls him just plain Tuck, which she says is “a suitable and noble name, without getting fancy.”

At home, I often talked to Tuck, telling him things I’d never tell anyone else. Sometimes I read to him, but he usually frustrated me by going to sleep.

I remember taking The Adventures of Robin Hood down from one of the long shelves in the den and reading to him Friar Tuck’s first speech of the book, when King Richard came to Sherwood Forest:

“’Take care whom thou pushest against!’ cried a great, burly friar. ‘Wouldst thou dig thine elbows into me, sirrah? By’r Lady of the Fountain, if thou dost not treat me with more deference, I will crack thy knave’s pate for thee . . .’” I paused.

“That was you,” I said to my roommate, but he’d gone off to sleep, curled up like a bear cub. [pg. 22]

Helen exhibited much determination, fighting spirit, and love as she worked with Tuck and tried to make his life as normal as possible. Especially after *SPOILER* they get Lady Daisy, the companion dog, and it is Helen’s task to train Tuck to follow Daisy.

Cautions.            

Helen has a good relationship with her parents – they are sympathetic with one another and she listens to what they tell her. But once Tuck goes blind, she becomes very protective of him and sometimes views her parents as being antagonistic. “I silently set my jaw, determined to let nothing bother me. The most important thing on earth was Tuck. Not them. Not me. Just Tuck.” [pg. 58] The best example of this is when she thinks she overhears them planning to put Tuck down. Her response is to run away with Tuck the next day in an attempt to ‘save’ him. Later on the same day, she realizes that she cannot survive by herself and calls back home. She learns that her parents were planning another way to help Tuck. She says “in addition to being sore and tired, I felt very foolish.” [pg. 82]

I was glad that she had the sense to see the foolishness of her own behavior. Later, after they get Lady Daisy, Helen works for hours trying to train Tuck to work with Daisy. Her parents become concerned with her and tell her to stop. She decides to work a little longer (she thinks the dogs are close to catching on) and does so behind her parents’ backs. Her mother finds out and promises not to tell her father but gives her only two more weeks to work. In the end, she triumphs and everyone rejoices over her. No one mentions punishment for her disobedience because they are all so proud of her.

I’m not at all a fan of the ‘child disobeys parents and saves the day’ mentality. But this device could be used to discuss the proper way for children to respond to commands that they feel are unjust.

Helen has mostly get-on-your-nerves sort of relationships with her older brothers. They are only together a few times in the story, and each time they are annoying each other. I will say that their relationship underwent a change once Tuck went blind, because her brothers felt sorry for her and tried to make her feel better.

Helen says of her brother Stan that “he got love notes from girls in junior high. I knew. I’d read them.” [pg. 16] She laters says “Stan was now sixteen and dating already. That’s where he was. Out with a fifteen-year-old brunette.” [pg. 32]

The most scary thing that happens in the book occurs in the following section while Helen and Tuck are out on a walk.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, appeared a slim man in a light blue jacket, khaki pants, and a baseball cap. He smiled at me and said, “Hi, little girl.”

My heart began to thump.

I didn’t see anyone else around. In good weather, there were always older people sitting on the benches or sprawled out on the grass, reading or talking. Kids went through the park on bikes. Mothers pushed baby strollers along the walks. Often, there were workmen around, trimming the bushes or cutting the grass or emptying trash.

Today, not a soul.

I didn’t like the way this man was looking at me, either, with a funny wet grin on his narrow face. His eyes were bright – too bright. I’ll never forget his thin face. It was like a wedge.

He asked, “Where ya goin’?”

Not answering him, I started to walk very fast, and he followed, into the dense fog.

Starting to run, I heard him running behind me, through the swirling mist. I desperately yelled for Tuck. No sooner did I do that than the man caught up with me, grabbed me, and put a hand over my mouth.

I remember that I tried to pull his hand away by jerking at his wrist, but he had me tight around the neck in the crook of his arm, as well as around the waist. I was helpless, and he seemed to drop to one knee. He ripped at my dress.

At that moment, there was a roar and an explosion of gold that jarred me loose from his arms.

Tuck had hit the man from behind, leaping on his back, jaws wide.

There was a wild tangle, and the man screamed, trying to push the big dog away. With Tuck snarling and biting and the man screaming, the sound was terrible, and I crawled off,  feeling sick.

All of it stopping as suddenly as it had begun, Tuck soon came over to me, flecks of blood around his nose and in the yellow hair on his chest. I saw the man get up and run off into the mist, bent over, holding his shoulder and neck. He wasn’t moaning or anything. His baseball cap was still on the ground.

Then I stood up, shaking all over, my heart still thudding, and hooked the leash into the ring on Tuck’s collar, and we hurried out of the park.

I knew what had almost happened to me, knew what that man had intended to do, and Tuck was a hero around our house that night and forever after. [pgs. 25-26]

Helen says that she ‘knew what had almost happened’, and we know what almost happened to her, but I doubt most children would grasp anything other than that he was trying to hurt/kidnap her. Still, I would have been paranoid for months if I had read that section as a kid…

Helen mentions that “rock and roll was just coming in, as was Elvis Presley.” [pg. 22]

Helen mentions that her mother sometimes wears a shirt that says “Arm Bears. Don’t Bear Arms.” [pg. 47]

Once, when her mother tells her that she is proud of her, Helen thinks, “those words, or words like them, have been said to daughters and sons since the cave days, I suspect.” [pg. 97]

Helen tells three lies, none of which are necessary to save a life. She confesses to one of them.

‘What the devil’ and ‘Lordy’ are each used once.

Conclusion. A very cute story, but not without problems.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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