Song Dogs

6 May 2009

Song Dogs
by Betty Wilson
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Marie Powell Mendenhall
$9.95 CDN ISBN: 1-55050-216-6

Anyone who has heard coyotes yipping and howling across the prairie will have no trouble identifying Betty Wilson’s Song Dogs.

Wilson conveys the story of these animals with humor and understanding, in this nonfiction book for middle grades and older. She describes their unique call as “warnings, greetings, threats and a little hollering just for the heck of it.”

The book follows a young coyote named Silvertip, and other coyotes nearby, as he grows up in a particular section of rural Alberta. Using the traditions of creative nonfiction, Wilson names the coyotes and situates their stories in the gritty realism of their habitat. For instance, Silvertip fights off a bout of distemper, loses his toes in a trap, and survives fever and infection.

Along with his mate Shadow and several other coyotes, Silvertip must fight for survival against man and the hardships of the environment. Wilson pulls no punches about the role of man in their story. The ranchers hunt them with rifles, traps, hounds and snowmobiles. The coyotes must also survive rattlesnakes, winter, starvation, and other trials of the wild.

These playful and resourceful animals punctuate their lives with their voices: “Suddenly the night was alive with coyote song, echoing with ventriloquist’s magic, from family to family, back and forth across the river valley.”

Pencil sketches appear throughout the pages as well. The book was a finalist for the Canadian Library Association book award for children.


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