Learning about friendship and a dog agility class drives this new title.

Robyn spends school years with her mom and summers with Dad. Mom is always moving so it’s been a new school and being the new kid six times. Fifth grade brings Mom, Robyn, and her beloved two dogs, Sundae and Fudge to San Luis Obispo, CA.

Robyn doesn’t want any of her past failed starts to occur again so she creates a list of rules to follow at her new school. They revolve around blending in and staying away from trouble.

Mom has a different plan when she asks Robyn to get involved in an after-school activity. Instead of something her mom suggests, Robyn finds a dog agility class more to her liking.. She is immediately turned away by the trainer. One dog per person doesn’t work since Fudge is deaf and blind and always has Sundae by her side as a trusted companion.

Coming to the rescue is the instructor’s grandson, Nestor, who offers a deal. He’ll train the dogs if Robyn will tutor him in math. Nice plan but Robyn isn’t very good at math herself so she recruits a classmate to help. Soon enough more kids are involved and her plan to blend in is not working. Sticking to her rules has new challenges and she must adapt. Through it all she finds parallels to the dog training and her own life and begins to see people not by their cover, but by their full story.

The third person narration covers 24 chapters and 288 pages. I would have preferred a first person narration and a shorter length as it could have had a deeper emotional output. Nevertheless, NEW KIDS & UNDERDOGS has some good lessons about fitting in and being true to yourself. Best fit would be in a fourth or fifth grade classroom as the MC is 10 years old.

I’ve featured the author’s other two books, Suzie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Those are also worth your time, both with unique realistic plots.


  1. The other students all have stories in their past and each are eventually revealed. The background on Nestor who had cancer, and Alejandra who always wears purple were two of the best.
  2. Sometimes a parent is not the one who gives you healing type advice. In this case, it’s Robyn’s college age sitter, Nivien. Her wisdom has Robyn thinking about her plight differently.
  3. The agility class for dogs was fascinating. It certainly is a lifesaver for both animal and owner. I never knew how much was involved in this undertaking.
  4. MG books often have one parent it was nice to see both parents involved in Robyn’s life.
  5. The problems Robyn faces in agreeing to new friendships will be familiar to young readers. They might just pick op a few pointers here about how to deal with a new setting.


Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in Salon, LA Times, FamilyFun and other publications. She is the author of the middle-grade novel, WE COULD BE HEROES (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)–NOW A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION!

She lives in Southern California with her husband, two children, and her dog, Walt. She loves baking, soft-serve ice cream, and walking her dog.

(For much more about Margaret, be sure to visit her author web page)


Comments are welcome below. Don’t forget to visit al the other MMGM bloggers this week.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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5 Responses to NEW KIDS & UNDERDOGS

  1. I love the sound of Fudge and Sundae! I like to see agility training getting a mention in kids books. I believe it’s great for owner-dog bond as well as mental and physical exercise for the dog. My dog is a fabulous jumper and I wanted to start him on agility until I discovered he had a hip problem and there went that plan (though we have a tunnel and weave poles for him). Thanks for the review! 🙂

  2. msyingling says:

    Pongo wouldn’t do well with agility training, but it was certainly interesting to read about. I remember making a plan to fly under the radar in high school, but it didn’t work very well. I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more books where kids make plans. Maybe they don’t make as many as they used to! Thanks for the review, and for hosting MMGM!

  3. What a fascinating book for dog lovers. I wasn’t familiar with agility training, so I’m glad to see it featured in a MG book! There are some interesting themes and messages in this story. Writing down rules doesn’t always work, as Robin learns and it’s best to just go with the flow and be herself. Great share.

  4. You have to love a book that has dogs at the center. I haven’t read anything by this author. I will have to put her on my TBR list. Thanks for the post.

  5. I love a good underdog story! And one about dogs is usually a winner with the MG crowd …

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