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A boy builds a life-changing bond with his dog in this adventure story from the author of Star in the Storm.

It’s 1929, and thirteen-year-old Tom Campbell has always wanted a real family with a real house and a dog of his very own. Since he was three years old, the only home he has ever known has been the Mission orphanage.

When he is sent to live and work with fisherman Enoch and his wife, Tom finally sees his dream within reach. And when he rescues a Newfoundland dog in the middle of a terrifying squall, Tom feels as if both he and the dog, which he names Thunder, have found a place to call home at last.

But when Enoch’s wife becomes pregnant and it looks like Thunder’s owner might be found, Tom’s wonderful new world is turned upside down. Will the Murrays still want Tom? And will Tom be forced to give up his beloved Thunder?

Chapter One: Seasick

Tom Campbell held on to the rail as the Constance rose and fell in the giant swells of the ocean. Tom's stomach rolled along with the tossing of the waves. A fine fisherman I'll be if I get seasick like this, he told himself. What will Mr. Murray think? The steamer continued churning through the heavy surf. Tom bent over the side of the ship and yucked up his lunch into the ocean.

He looked over his shoulder, hoping Mr. Murray hadn't seen him. After all, the man was taking a big chance on thirteen-year-old Tom by bringing him into his home to live and onto his boat to work.

He let the roaring wind blow in his face, breathing deeply and praying that they'd soon be at his new home. For the past ten years, home had been the orphanage at the Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula. It was the only home Tom could remember.

He was born in Labrador and sometimes when he smelled pine trees or the scent of fish cooking on an open fire, a faint memory would present itself -- a fleeting recollection of voices and shadowy faces. He remembered being feverish and his mother rocking him and crooning a lullaby in cheek music -- the music Newfoundlanders made up and sang to themselves or their children. Falalalee. Falalaloo. The memory was faint and hazy, like a dream.

Both his parents became ill when he was three years old and they were all taken on the hospital ship to the mission. When his parents died, Tom stayed on at Grenfell. He lived in the school and learned to farm potatoes, beets, and turnips for the long winters. The good people there were kind, but not a true family.

Now it was 1929 and at last he'd be living in a real home with fisherman Enoch Murray and his wife, Fiona. Mr. Murray seemed nice enough, but quiet and shy, as if he didn't know what to say to Tom. Tom wasn't a bit sure what to say to him, either.

He felt another surge of nausea and he leaned over the rail again, upchucking what was left in his belly. He'd never be a fisherman! Right now he positively hated the sea!

"Are you feelin' squawmish, lad?" Mr. Murray was suddenly next to him. "You look green in the gills."

"Aye, I'm a bit sick to the stomach, sir," Tom answered.

"It's shockin' rough today. Could be an August gale blowin' up from the northeast."

"I don't usually get seasick, Mr. Murray."

"Call me Enoch. We'll both feel more t'ease usin' first names." Enoch squinted at the horizon. "We should be home by tomorrow mornin'. Maybe it'll calm down tonight and you can get some sleep. I ordered a cabin for the night. I didn't have the money for two, but I think you're the one who needs it most." He handed Tom a key with the number 21 on it. "It's down that way." He pointed toward the back of the boat.

"Thank you...Enoch," Tom said. "I promise I won't always be like this."

Enoch nodded, but didn't smile. Was he regretting that he'd brought Tom back to live with him to help him with his fishing business? Tom felt almost too sick to care.

But he truly did care. He'd often wished for a real family in a real house. And now that it finally might be happening, he didn't want to ruin everything.

He wondered if the Murrays had a dog -- one that he could run and play with, one that would be his friend. That would make everything perfect.

Tom made his way down to the cabin, hanging on to the rail as the boat continued lurching. Once inside cabin 21, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the one treasure he owned -- his grandfather's pocket watch. He opened it. Five o'clock. It was too early to go to bed but he was sick and he just wanted to sleep.

Tom clicked the watch shut. His fingers traced the Celtic knot that was engraved on the cover. He tucked the watch under the pillow, just as he always did, then sank onto the cot, hearing the comforting muffled ticktock, ticktock, like a heartbeat.

The Constance continued rocking -- rocking -- but now he was in his mother's arms and she was singing the lullaby. Falalalee. Falalaloo.

Copyright © 2004 by Joan Hiatt Harlow
ABOUT THE BOOK
Tom Campbell, a thirteen-year-old orphan, travels to Back o'the Moon Island to live with Enoch and Fiona Murray in 1929. After he rescues a young Newfoundland dog, Thunder, during a storm, his life seems nearly perfect until trouble with his neighbors and the impending birth of a new baby threaten to change everything.
THEMES
Orphans; Dogs; Family life; Newfoundland and Labrador
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
• Why did Enoch and Fiona like living on this remote island? What did it offer that they couldn't find in town?
• Why would Enoch want to be in partnership with Amos? Why was it difficult? How would you deal with a partner like Amos?
• What is "jannie talk"? Why do Mummers use it? What is "cheek music"? What is it used for?
• Why did the earthquake cause a tidal wave? How might Thunder have sensed it before the people?
SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES
• This is a fictional story of a dog who is a hero. Find some examples of real animal heroes and report on the ways dogs can help people. How can a dog's senses make a difference in detecting an emergency or saving a person?
• Look at an atlas of Canada and look for small islands like Back o'the Moon. Where are some real islands? What can you discover about the people that live there?
• Research real earthquakes and tsunamis and the current attempts to create early warning systems.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Arlene Wiler
© William Allen White Children's Book Award
Please visit http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/ for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.
Photograph courtesy of the author

Joan Hiatt Harlow is the author of several popular historical novels including Secret of the Night PoniesShadows on the SeaMidnight RiderStar in the StormJoshua’s Song, Thunder from the Sea, and Breaker Boy. Ms. Harlow lives in Venice, Florida. For more information, visit her at JoanHiattHarlow.com.

  • Iowa Children's Choice Award Nominee
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award Reading List (KS)
  • Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award Nominee
  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Intermediate Title
  • Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • Great Stone Face Book Award Nominee (NH)
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award Master List (IL)
  • Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award Master List
  • Crown Award Nominee (TX)
  • Mark Twain Award Final Nominee (MO)
  • Nutmeg Book Award (CT)

More books from this author: Joan Hiatt Harlow