Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog by Eileen Beha

Anne of Green Gables meets the animal version of  Swiss Family Robinson in this coming of age novel that incorporates a realistic plot about a young girl, McKenna, who is passed from foster home to foster home seeking love while trying to find her place in the world.  She believes she is related to the original inhabitants of Prince Edward Island.

She runs away from  her latest foster home to stay with a distant relative that she has never met, but while there bonds with  childless Augusta, an older widow woman, whose husband was taken by the sea thirty years earlier. The Prince Edward Island  story begins just after a big storm at sea.   Tango, a small Yorkshire terrier is found tangled in a lobster trap almost frozen.   Tango’s story begins in New England, where is is taken from his mother and sold to a pet shop in Manhattan.  He is bought  by a rich woman, who lives in Manhattan.  He lives a life of luxury and feels very loved.  His owner takes him on a sailboat  which was caught in a storm and Tango is washed overboard and later found frozen and wet in a lobster trap on Prince Edward Island.

Jack, a veterinarian, and Augusta feel a kinship with the lonely McKenna, who has been allowed to live temporarily in a small room  behind her uncle’s house until the end of the summer.  McKenna is allowed to paint the shed-like building and use it as a place to sell candles during the summer tourist season.  Augusta and Jack provide McKenna with the tools and supplies she needs to make candles to sell to the summer tourists.  McKenna had found a recipe for  “enchanted candles” in an old Bible and had wanted to make them to earn enough money to go to Toronto to find the only foster mother that she had loved, but who had moved away saying she was unable to take McKenna with her.

In a parallel fantasy storyline, Tango, Beau fox, and a gang of evil cats are communicating in their own language about turf wars, and general meanness.  Beau, a fox, saw McKenna abandoned as a baby and left alone wrapped in a fishing net  in the marshy brush.   Beau pulls the baby out of the water and closer to the road where she is found by a young woman who cares for her until she is killed in a car accident when McKenna was two.  The uncle that McKenna goes to stay with on Prince Edward Island is not her blood relative but related to her adoptive mother. Uncle Cody is  good man, but does not have the resources or a wife who will allow him to give McKenna a home.   McKenna knows the truth about her true background by looking at her folder during a visit with her social worker, but does not tell her uncle because she needs a place to stay.    Beau  follows McKenna from one home to the next always keeping watch over her.  Beau is all alone in the world too since his mate, Tawny, was run over and killed by the man that was married to the woman who found McKenna wrapped in the fishing net.

Once on the island, Tango does everything he can to find a silver heart that had his I.D. information on it so Augusta will see it and call his owner in Manhattan to come for him.  This involves fighting a rat and battling an evil gang of cats who all have names and talk to each other and the other animals too.  Tango agrees to fight a big white rat to the death of one of them in order to win the prize of his name tag which was found by one of the cats, Nigel called Stumpy, a cat with only three legs.  Nigel is one of the cats in the gang, but he doesn’t fit in with the rest of them.  He goes along to get along.  At the end, the mean cats turn on him and try to make him fight Tango.  Suddenly a huge storm overtakes the cat’s hideout called The Pitiful Place and washes it out to sea.  Just before they are washed away, McKenna  finds Tango and Nigel and rescues them.

Augusta is healing from a fall, and during this time McKenna has taken care of her.  Augusta  realizes that she can risk loving again after all her years of hurt over the loss of her husband.  She has come to love Tango and McKenna.

McKenna tells Augusta about the charm that Tango had in his mouth after fighting the rat just before the storm.  When Beau realizes that Tango, who he was also protecting along with McKenna, is going to be ok, and that McKenna has found someone to love her, he passes on to join his mate, Tawny, who has been calling to him in his old age.  When he dies, it is not sad because he has lived a long and good life.

When Tango is reunited with Augusta after fighting for his i.d. charm, he comes to the realization that he loves Augusta and Mckenna, and he feels he would not like living in an apartment in Manhattan anymore.  He loves his leash-less freedom.   Augusta  goes to sleep with the charm under her pillow to “sleep on it” and will decide whether to call his owner the next day.

This is a wonderful book for all ages, but so special because it is a great story without any curse words making it a solid addition to any young child’s library.  It is assigned a level of 4.8 in the A.R. system.

Point of View:  The story goes back and forth between the voice and POV of  Tango, McKenna, Augusta, and Beau.

Cause and Effect: Because Tango was washed overboard, the effect is he begins a new life on Prince Edward Island.

Synthesis: We can synthesize that introducing love and the feeling of being wanted into a person or animal’s life, makes them both feel contented and settled.

Author,  Eileen Beha, has a teacher’s guide for Tango on her website.

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One thought on “Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog by Eileen Beha

  1. Eileen Beha

    Hello Texas Librarian,
    And thanks for your review of my novel for middle grade readers and excellent ideas about how the book can be used in the classroom. I have recently posted a 4-page Teacher’s Guide on my website: http://www.eileenbeha.com. I hope that this guide will provide some additional ways to extend learning, and have fun with, the story. Great website!
    Eileen Beha, Author

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