By giving voice to a compassionate canine, Vandiver turns this story of a rescue dog’s journey to a loving home into a powerful empathy-building exercise for young readers. The three-year-old black Labrador Retriever has spent most of his life outside, sharing a yard with two hostile dogs who frighten and dominate him. Gentle Basil doesn’t get enough to eat, let alone the affection and companionship he craves. Without making Basil’s family into villains, Vandiver shows how owners can harm their pets by not fully understanding the responsibility of caring for a living creature.
Basil was adopted from a shelter for ten-year-old Marina, whose parents were divorcing, and he was happy to comfort her. “I had a good life. I had a purpose,” Basil recollects. But the apartment building where Marina and her mother lived didn’t allow dogs, so Basil ended up at the house of her angry, resentful father. Vandiver’s decision to tie Basil’s struggle to family conflict (as opposed to the neglect and cruelty that many rescue dogs endure) makes her debut chapter book resonate even more deeply, allowing young readers to view the world from a dog’s perspective while seeing aspects of their own lives reflected in his experience.
When Basil gets frightened or frustrated, he runs away, but he’s lucky to be found by patient and determined adults who value his well-being. Vandiver adroitly expresses Basil’s insights—“Feeling what my humans are feeling is one of my superpowers”—while also acknowledging the limits of his perceptions and thinking. Hannah, who runs a doggie day care and fosters Basil, makes tough decisions that he only partly understands. She challenges him like a good teacher, and guides him forward. The optimism of Basil’s Quest reflects not only the hopeful doggedness of animal rescuers, but also offers young readers a pathway from a painful past into a positive future.
Takeaway: Told from the perspective of an intuitive dog, this appealing chapter book celebrates both individual resilience and a community of rescuers.
Great for fans of: Sarah Lean’s A Dog Called Homeless, Tui T. Sutherland’s Runaway Retriever, W. Bruce Cameron’s Lily to the Rescue series.