Charlie, an eleven-year-old boy, likes to keep his life organized and quiet while living on a ranch where his mother runs a veterinary clinic. When Charlie’s mom hires a bookkeeper to come live on the farm, the bookkeeper brings her daughter, Amy Ma, with her, and Amy is anything but quiet! Amy’s constant questions and attempts to spend time with Charlie really bother him, and he doesn’t understand why everyone else, especially adults, seem to like her so much. When a neighbour’s dog gets sick, Charlie ultimately realizes that Amy’s approach might not be so bad after all.
Why use this book:
- Highlights the work of a rural veterinarian who helps both farm animals and pets.
- Includes the concept that the kindness that we show animals should extend to people.
- Highlights the strong connection and relationships people have with their animals, known as the human-animal bond.
Animal Welfare Considerations:
- Mrs. Alred is seen hugging Oscar in one of the illustrations. While this is a common portrayal in many books, most dogs (even your family pet) are probably not comfortable being hugged. When dogs feel uncomfortable there is a potential for them to bite – this is especially important for young people to learn as they are most often the victims of dogs bites. To learn more about what dogs would prefer to hugging, watch our Curious Questions Video.
- In one chapter the two children Charlie and Amy help an owl, however in reality it would have been best for Charlie’s mom who is a veterinarian help instead.
- The author uses ‘it’ instead of him/her/they when referring to animals with unknown sexes. Although this complies with the recommendations in The Canadian Press Stylebook, many animal advocates like Jane Goodall have argued that using personal terms when referring to animals adds recognition of the similarities of the lives we share with animals and should consider avoiding the word ‘it’ to describe animals.
Ask your students:
- Charlie and his family live on a ranch. What is a ranch? Have you ever been to one? How is it similar or different to where you live?
- How would you describe Charlie and Amy’s first time meeting?
- How are some adjectives you would use to describe both Charlie and Amy’s personalities?
- What does Charlie think of Amy?
- What does Amy think of Charlie?
- Have you ever met someone who you don’t necessarily get along with? What did you do? Remind students that not everyone has to be friends, but you can still be respectful and kind to someone who you might not necessarily get along with.
- Charlie’s mom is a veterinarian and has a DVM. What does DVM stand for? Has your family taken an animal to the veterinarian? What do they do?
- In the veterinary clinic, an older woman yelled at her puppy to sit and it didn’t work! What advice did Selena (the veterinarian) give to the woman to help her communicate better with her puppy?
- Why did Selena say her “heart ached” after the woman dragged her puppy out of the veterinary clinic?
- How do you think Duke (the puppy) felt being dragged out of the veterinary clinic?
- How would you feel if you were in the veterinary clinic at the same time?
- What was Charlie’s reaction when his mom said Amy could go over to Mrs. Alred’s house with him? Why do you think he felt this way?
- To emphasize his rule about girls who chew bubble gum he added an exclamation point and underlined the sentence. What other ways can we communicate that we feel strongly about something?
- Charlie tells Amy that his mom says “All we can ever do is our best to help.” What does this mean to you? Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Mrs. Alred asks Amy to call her by her first name, when she had never asked Charlie to? Amy took interest in Mrs. Alred. Amy asked her questions about her home and family which made her feel special. Charlie is always very focused on the tasks while at Mrs. Alred’s and does not show any interest in her.
- How did Mrs. Alred react when Charlie called her dog “old and fat”? How could have Charlie handled the situation differently? Charlie could have considered Mrs. Alred’s feelings and stuck to the questions his mom gave him to ask.
- How would you describe how both Charlie and Amy reacted when Mrs. Alred started crying? If you were Mrs. Alred, which reaction would you have preferred?
- What do you think will happen to Oscar, Mrs. Alred’s dog?
- Why do you think Amy wanted to make and sell cat houses and bird houses?
- Amy discovered that Duke, the puppy of the “mean woman” was taken to the animal shelter. Why did she take the puppy to the shelter? What are other reasons that some people might need to take their pets to a shelter? Are all of these people mean? Explain.
- The chapter ends with Mr. Langston calling Selena asking for help because one of his cows is stuck in a tree. Do you think this is possible? Explain.
- On the drive to Mr. Langton’s, Selena stated that Oscar helps Mrs. Alred. How do you think Oscar, a dog, helps Mrs. Alred? Alred lives on her own, so Oscar keeps her company!
- Selena says that the specialist veterinarian might be able to help both Oscar and Mrs. Alred. How would the veterinarian help both an animal and a person? Many people have strong bonds with their pets. If the veterinarian is able to help Oscar feel better, then Mrs. Alred will feel better too as she cares deeply about Oscar.
- Selena says “humans connect through the heart.” What does that mean?
- When Selena, Charlie, and Amy arrive at Mr. Langton’s they notice the cow in the tree and her calf below her. How do you think both the cow and calf felt in that moment? Both the cow and calf would likely have been scared – this is suggested by the calf ‘bawling to their mom’ and the cow mooing back. The calf could have also be hungry.
- Why did Mr. Langton call a veterinarian to help him in this situation? He needed the veterinarian to make sure the cow would be safe and not get hurt as he make sure the cow would he tried to lift her out of the tree. The veterinarian gave the cow some medicine to make her sleepy so that they could get her down in a safe manner.
- If you were in Mr. Langston’s situation, what would you have done?
- How did the cow end up in the tree? How did Amy and Charlie figure this out?
- Why was Mrs. Alred upset?
- Charlie did not understand why his mom and Amy are comforting Mrs. Alred, because “why help someone cry more?”. Do you agree with Charlie? Explain.
- How would you describe the difference in the way Charlie and Amy handled the situation with Mrs. Alred? If you were Mrs. Alred which would you appreciate more?
- Charlie’s mom told Charlie that “Sometimes it helps to imagine what other people are feeling instead of thinking about what needs to be done.” Do you agree with this statement? Explain.
- What was Charlie’s reaction to his mom telling him this? Charlie pictured Amy holding Oscar as he died, and started to cry and then offered to be there too.
- Do you think Mrs. Alred is making the right decision by putting Oscar down? Explain.
- How were Charlie, Amy and Selena feeling when they got back from Mrs. Alred’s with Oscar?
- What was wrong with Buttons? Buttons ate some cheese, and most cats are lactose intolerant which means dairy products make them sick. What could Cheryl do to ensure Buttons does not get into any more dairy?
- What did Amy discover while petting Oscar? Amy discovered a tick.
- How might this discovery save Oscar’s life? The tick may be what is making Oscar sick. Now that Selena knows what is making Oscar sick, she can treat him, and hopefully get him healthy again.
- What was in the box that Amy brought to Charlie?
- Instead of asking two kids, Charlie and Amy to help the owl, what could Selena have done differently? She could have treated the owl herself! The children were not experienced with owls and may have hurt the owl or themselves (in fact, Amy did hurt herself trying to help the owl). Selena could have also taken the owl to a wildlife rehabilitation centre to be helped by experts.
- How does Amy’s Book of Rules differ from Charlie’s?
- Amy’s first rule is: ‘Dogs don’t care so much about what you say. They care about how you say it. Talk to people the same way.’ What does Amy mean by this? Do you agree with this rule? Explain.
- How did Oscar react when Charlie called him a ‘smelly, ugly, rotten dog’? Oscar thumped his tail, because Charlie said it in a nice, calm and gentle voice – the voice people usually make when they praise a dog.
- How did Mrs. Alred feel when Oscar returned home?
- How would you have felt if you were Mrs. Alred?
- Why did Charlie offer to go over to Mrs. Alred’s more often to take Oscar on longer walks? Who does this help? Alred is elderly and can’t walk Oscar as far as she would like. Charlie will not only be helping Oscar become healthier, but also Mrs. Alred with a task she has difficulty doing.
- What are the reasons Charlie suggests Mrs. Alred should get a puppy? Do you think it is a good idea? Explain.
- How was Charlie changed when he goes to visit Mrs. Alred this time, compared the beginning of the story?
- What did Mrs. Alred ask Charlie to do? Call her Dorothy.
- How do you think this made Charlie feel?
- Why did Amy laugh when Charlie ‘insults’ her by saying “I’m not sure you could ever build a nice cathouse.”
- Do you think that Amy purposely left her rule book out for Charlie to read?
- How has Charlie and Amy’s friendship evolved since the beginning of the story?
- Rule Book – By the end of the story, both Charlie and Amy had rule books. As a class, come up with a list of class rules that everyone should follow while at school that encourages kindness and respect towards others, animals, and the environment. Actively listening when others speak, keeping the school clean by picking up litter, respecting local wildlife in the school yard by not chasing wild rabbits, etc.
- Two Truths and a (Tall) Tail – This story was written by a veterinarian who lives in Red Deer, Alberta and all of the situations that Amy and Charlie face are based on his experiences. This book is full of animal facts (as it was written by an animal expert)! Read the following statements to students and have them, individually or in pairs, determine which statement is false out of the three. The bold statement indicates the false statement.
- Round One
- Cats are lactose intolerant
- Cats can’t sweat
- Cats are omnivores. Cats are carnivores and get the nutrients they need from meat, unlike dogs who are omnivores and get their nutrients from both plants and meat.
- Round Two
- Dogs learn best if you are kind to them
- Dog enjoy hugs. Most dogs (even your family pet) are probably not comfortable being hugged. When dogs feel uncomfortable there is a potential for them to bite – this is especially important for young people to learn as they are most often the victims of dogs bites
- Older dogs can help to socialize younger dogs
- Round Three
- Because they are farm animals, cows do not need any enrichment (things to help them express their natural behaviour). All domestic animals need enrichment! Cows love to scratch, so providing them with big cylindrical cow brushes, so they can rub against it, is one way to provide enrichment. Cows might also enjoy playing with toys, such as balls.
- Cows can’t climb trees
- Cows are closely bonded with their calves
- Round Four
- Ticks can make dogs sick.
- Dogs can’t sweat
- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While puppies might pick up new behaviours more quickly, dogs of any age can learn new tricks. Remember to be patient and use positive reinforcement techniques (treats, scratches, etc.) when training your dog.
- Round One
- Extension: Have students make their own “Two Truths and a (tall) Tail.” Provide students the opportunity to research animal facts to ensure they are using correct information. Students can share their “Two Truths and a (tall) Tail” with a partner, and have the partner try and guess the false statement.
- Personal Reflection – At the beginning of the story, Charlie did not get along with Amy, but after spending time with her and getting to know her, he realized that she was a friend after all. Have students reflect on a time where they did not get along with someone right away. How do they think they handled the situation? What was the result? If they could go back, would they change how they acted? Encourage students to think from the other person’s perspective as well. Students can write their reflection in their journal, and if they feel comfortable, share with a partner.
- Palindrome Fun – Palindromes are words that read the same forward as they do backwards, like Amy Ma, in the story. Read aloud or write the following clues on the board and in pairs, have students try to figure out the palindrome!
- A baby wears this when eating. BIB
- You pick this up when walking your dog. POOP
- A really fast car. RACE CAR
- The noise chicks make. PEEP
- Another way of saying midday. NOON
- A female sheep. EWE
- A one person boat that you paddle. KAYAK
- A father. DAD
- A mother. MOM
- When something is flat. LEVEL
- Extension: See if students can come up with their own palindromes to share with the class.
- Animal Puns – A pun is a figure of speech that relies on words that are similar in the meaning or sound to be humorous. There are plenty of puns in this book! The title is based off of a pun and each week Charlie has to change the animal pun on the sign in front of his mother’s veterinary clinic. Go over the puns below, with students and ask them to explain why they are puns. Then have students create their own animal puns. Students can share the puns with a partner, or you can combine the puns together and make an ‘Animal Pun Class Book’!
- Raining cats and dogs? Look out for poodles!
- A dog gave birth near the road – it was ticketed for littering.
- Careers with Animals – This book features a rural veterinary clinic that treats both farm animals and pets. As a class, brainstorm a list of other jobs people have that work with animals. Animal Protection Officer, Conservation Officer, Farmer, Groomer, Dog Walker, Trainer/Behaviour specialist, Wildlife Biologist, Zoologist, etc. Then, have students pick one of the jobs to research. Students can then create a poster demonstrating what the job involves and how the people in these careers help animals.
Additional Resources Related to Book:
- For additional information on dog safety (reading dog body language, safely greeting a dog, etc.) visit The Family Dog website.