About the book: Strongheart is a story about the double life of a dog called HERBIE. This fictionalized story is set in a mid-western community where during a more civilized time the Bear clan Potawatomi lived in peace with each other, with wildlife and with the brutal winter weather.
In one life Herbie is mentored by a neighbor, an aging Irish setter looking for her own replacement as Keeper of the Potawatomi Legends. CALLE teaches Herbie about courage and respect, the values and cultural ethics of the Native American tribe through their tradition of storytelling.
The Old English sheepdog’s potentially dangerous second life with BOB, the domineering alpha male antagonist, is tempered by ELIZABETH, his loving human protector. Bob is jealous of his wife’s affection for the pup. What the innocent pup learns about tolerance and respect for his alpha from Calle will enable his character to unfold to fit his destiny and his big feet.
Herbie is advised by WOLF, a legendary spirit that lives deep in the lake and in the pup’s mind.
The reader learns sign language used by The People, discovers aspects of the Bear Clan’s daily life and work, and comes away with a small Potawatomi vocabulary.
Strongheart’s strength lies in its first person account of internal growth conveyed by the humorous insightfulness of a dog.
Strongheart’s core concerns are overcoming fear, implementing respect and displaying tolerance.
Strongheart’s value lies in the understanding of canine sign language and in the insights into the culture of this local band of Potawatomi.
This coming-of-age story is told in the POV of its protagonist, an Old English sheepdog who growls, snaps and barks a language to other animals and thinks a language to his human peers.
Excerpt from the book:
Calle is gone from my yard when the large German shepherd arrives. He circles me, stops, turns, then reverses his ring. His ears stand upright pricked to a point, his head is cocked to one side like he’s wondering how a dead dog can snore. I watch his circling through the slits in my eyes and hold back a grin. It will be comical if the big dog grows dizzy and falls over.
The grin evaporates as I remember a dream about Beau’s death. I can’t recall the details, but he does get dizzy and fall. I shiver goes from my tail hole to my withers. Stop remembering, I tell myself. This dog is too grand for laughter. It will be tragic when he falls.
The shepherd’s neck hangs over my body like a tree limb. A black mist is steaming from his coat. His front feet knead the ground. I wonder if he is standing on an anthill and glance under his belly to have a look, then lay motionless as he sniffs my rump in greeting. He swings around, inhales scents around my head and then my belly and butt hole again.
The dog doesn’t smell aggressive yet I can’t help but fidget when he pokes his snout under my chest. I pull a burdock from my paw as his muzzle moves over my belly. I summon all my courage to look up as the dog addresses me, but remember direct eye contact is a sign of aggression and look over his head.
“Vhich end bites?” He directs his voice to my butt and nestles his snot locker between my testicles. “Hello male dog with long hair on both ends.” He walks around me to sniff what he thinks is my nose. His voice holds sternness, a hard-bitten quality that makes me want to pay attention. I understand the question and shake back strands of hair covering my face.
His tail wags. “Vhat a surprise! Here are brown eyes in this end.” His eyeballs become slits and his smooth black lips pull tight and up at the corners. “And you have a big nose, black and capricious. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Beau, from the Schmidt family. I live on the road that leads to the sunsets. Vhat do they call this end of you?”
I stand. It’s my turn to investigate. I move my nose into the short coarse hair around Beau’s nose. His scent is one of dominance with hints of a pleasant temperament. I move behind him to sniff his anal scent glands. This dog is male, adult and is bathed regularly. His last meal was…yes, dry kibble with a hint of dead squirrel. I wonder if he ate my former friend Lazy on the north wind road. I’m afraid to ask.
“They call me Ken-Bear’s Herbie the Love Bug,” I say. “My pack name is Hartman. Oh, and Calle just gave me another name.”
“You are Valks Like a Bear. I already know.”
My mouth gapes open in surprise.
“Ya. I am hearing about you. My duty in this neighborhood is to velcome new dogs and to inform them of the rules.” The German shepherd’s coat is brushed smooth and shining on top, his ears are erect and creamy white. “It is verboten to vaste your urine in one spot,” he says. “You must never pass a tree, bush or rock near the roadway without marking it vith your news.” His gray legs are booted with identical black paws and tipped with neatly clipped toenails. “It is forbidden for male dogs to squat. You must learn to lift your leg to do your business.” He has champion lines, strong shoulders, beautifully chiseled facial features, and a long tail arching around to a perfect curve over his back. “It is against our laws to be caught on another dog’s property without permission. Chasing deer is off limits.” The big dog’s effect is one of confidence, a top dog in complete control. “Digging holes in rose gardens is not appreciated. Most important, when winter comes, do not lick the yellow snow. Versteh’?”
I yawn in agreement to release my stress, but am convinced a dog who thinks another dog should think like he does is out of his mind. My muscles lose their tightness during the next yawn and yawn extension. By the time I yawn again my ears have flopped forward covering my eyes and nose.
“If you fall asleep no one vill see you,” he grins. “Very vell then, you look different but you are velcome to live among us.” The big dog’s silvery-gray hair glistens from the light of the yard pole. He spins around, plants his paws and looks back to see if I’m watching. When he strides away, his nails click a perfect rhythm on the hard pavement.
And that was how I met Beau Schmidt.
I absolutely loved being able to see the world through a dogs eyes. I have a dog and every time I look at her now, I try to think of what her life is like and what she thinks about. The whole concept of this book was really brilliant, the fact that the author was able to blend Herbie’s learning of the Potawatomi legends with him gaining courage and facing change was really interesting to me. I have recommended this book to all of my friends and even my grandparents and teachers. This was truly a wonderful book and I am excited to see what else Laurice LaZebnik has in store for us next.LIBERTY ROMANIK, YOUNG READER