I was delighted when I read a version of my own story in Lynn Plourde’s first middle grade novel Maxi’s Secrets, Timminy moves to a new town north of Portland Maine. He is starting middle school and his father will be the new Assistant Principal of the school. Timminy is very small for his age which makes him a perfect target for a bully. He is wary of going to school because of his size and his connection to the new assistant principal. Plourde deftly brings us into his brand of school hell where Timminy is stuffed into lockers and ridiculed regularly. There is no escape, until Maxi arrives. As a way to comfort Timminy, his parents buy him a White Pyrenees dog named Maxi who changes his life forever. Early on we learn that Maxi is deaf and we watch as Timminy learns to have a deeply loyal and abiding relationship with this dog who cannot hear. At the same time Timminy is befriended by his neighbor Abby who is blind. In many ways the deafness and blindness of Timminy’s new friends are inconsequential which makes the bond seamless. Plourde is spot on in terms of understanding her readership. Middle school students will feel like Timminy and Abby could be sitting at their own lunch table. Her ability to show the dual aspect of disability and diversity astounded me. Readers will learn to share their world with someone who is deaf or blind in ways that will help them learn more about themselves as a result.
The movement for more diversity in children’s books is gaining momentum. I move to make sure books like Maxi’s Secrets are included in this category. Timminy’s friend Abby is a perfect example of a character who children need to get to know. She is likable, popular, independent, and interesting and she is blind just like another child who you may not have gotten to know. Plourde is to be commended for bringing many facets of being human together in this unforgettable tale of a boy and his dog and, really, who doesn’t love a story with a dog?