DIRT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I was hesitant about reading DIRT. It seemed to be covering some reoccurring themes in MG…

Bullies √

Parent and child grieving √

Parent ignoring their child√

But that cover… it pulled me right in like a good cover should. Dirt the pony becomes Yonder’s best friend. She’ll do anything to ensure this Shetland’s safety. Yonder is eleven and hasn’t spoken since her mother died four years ago. She and Dirt communicate a different way.

School is horrible for her, but home with Dirt, despite the conditions, suits Yonder just fine. I’m glad this is fiction because I’d march right over to that school and let them know they need to get their act together.

Yonder narrates the story and her words sometimes seem more adult like. Despite this, her journey to save Dirt from certain elimination will warm the hearts of animal lovers and the many kids I cross paths with who want to become a vet. Yonder is courageous and hopefully her actions will rub off on young readers.

DIRT is a quick read and one that would work perfect as a read-aloud.



Things are hard for eleven-year-old Yonder. Her mother died and her father has sunk into sadness. She doesn’t have a friend to her name . . . except for Dirt, the Shetland pony next door.

Dirt has problems of his own. He’s overweight, he’s always in trouble, and his owner is the mean Miss Enid, who doesn’t have the patience for a pony’s natural curiosity. His only friend is Yonder, the scrawny girl next door.

So when Miss Enid decides to sell Dirt for horsemeat, Yonder knows she has to find a way to rescue him. Even if that means stealing Dirt away and sneaking him into her own house. What follows will make you worry, will make you cry, and will ultimately fill you with hope, love, and an unshakable belief in the power of friendship. Especially the four-legged kind.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: DIRT by Denise Gosliner Orenstein

  1. You’ll learn about Shetland Ponies. They’re fascinating creatures and cute.
  2. The world of foster care is opened up and demonstrates how hard it is for a kid to adjust to a new setting and guardians. You’ll also see it from the foster parents’ side.
  3. I always love when a character’s appearance doesn’t match who they really are as a person. Yonder meets many of them along the way from the man in the dump to her social worker.
  4. The idea of a therapy animal shows off its importance here even though none of the adults, except for one, promoted its possibilities.
  5. Showcasing the positive work vets do every day was heartwarming and made me want to hug my own pet.


Dirt looked proud of himself when I found him drinking from my father’s special cider pan, which he’d left in the kitchen sink. His ears were flopped back, a sign of supreme pony relaxation; he bobbed his head, rubbed his cheek against the kitchen counter, and then raised his tail in pure pony scorn. Then, right in front of my eyes. Dirt had the nerve to drop three big ones directly on the kitchen floor.

ABOUT Denise Gosliner Orenstein (from GOODREADS)

Denise Gosliner Orenstein is a graduate of Bennington College and Brown University. Her career in education includes teaching at American University in Washington, D.C. as well as in bush villages thoughout the state of Alaska. Additionally, she has cooked for for an Alaskan village prison, worked as a PEN prison writing mentor, taught literature classes and assisted in a canine therapy program for inmates. Most recently, as head of a school for children with learning differences, she introduced a curriculum based on two rescued Shetland ponies. Denise is the mother of two daughters and lives in Northampton, MA with her dogs, Luke and Lily.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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11 Responses to DIRT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

  1. Natalie Aguirre says:

    Sounds like a great story. Hard issues are raised but are balanced by Yonder’s love of Dirt.

  2. I have to be honest and say that while your review is really good, this book still doesn’t sound appealing. How can anyone ignore a child that hasn’t spoken in 4 years?

  3. cleemckenzie says:

    You’re right about the cover. It is adorable and interesting.

  4. Wow. This one sure sounds different from anything I’ve heard of. Love the cover. Maybe I will give it a try. Thanks for the review.

  5. Yep. All of the things we’ve gotten tired of. I’m still going to pass, although I’m VERY interested to hear what you think of Michael Collins.

  6. Violet Tiger says:

    I agree that although the themes don’t seem very appealing, the cover is intriguing. I love horses, and I’m super interested in learning more about Shetland ponies. Thanks for your review!

  7. I’m definitely intrigued by your review (yeah, and the cover.) Thanks.

  8. Andrea says:

    I think there are some kids who are always going to like horse stories. I might pick it up if I see it at the library!

  9. You’re right, that is one great cover! My great granddaughter will read any horse book I give her and I know she’ll love this story! This sounds like a very unusual and heartwarming story.

  10. Susan says:

    Sounds like a kid pleaser–potty humor and all. 🙂

  11. Sue Kooky says:

    This sounds like a rather unique book. I love the cover! And the multiple viewpoints is a plus too.

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