Welcome to Day #4 of The Argos Blog Tour!
To celebrate the paperback release of Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog on March 27th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ralph Hardy and 5 chances to win a copy of the book!
My Favorite Middle School Novels
by Ralph Hardy
by Ralph Hardy
Growing up in a small town in eastern North Carolina I struggled to find books to read, particularly in the summer when school was out. There were no bookstores in my town, and even if there were, my father was raising five kids on his own after my mother died, so there wasn't any money for books. Moreover, my brother and I spent the weekends in the country with my childless aunt and uncle, and there was no library for miles around. But there was a general store on the country road that led to my aunt's house, and we stopped there every Friday afternoon and bought comic books, and later, cheap paperbacks, particularly those written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. As a result, Tarzan of the Apes became one of my favorite middle-school books.
Tarzan of the Apes
First published in 1912, Tarzan of the Apes was one of the first of many cheap paperbacks my brother and I read during those long, hot summers in North Carolina. Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs--who used to be a pencil sharpener salesman!—Tarzan transported my brother and me to a continent far beyond my wildest imagination. Killer apes, savage leopards, and conniving British colonialists—none were a match for Tarzan. We were so enthralled by the novels, and later, the TV show and movies, that my father hung a long rope from the branch of a tall tree on my uncle’s property, and my brother and I swung on it for hours and hours until our hands were calloused and our arms grew strong. Once my father said he’d give us five dollars if we could climb the rope hand-over-hand to the top. Five dollars back then was equivalent to forty dollars today, and he thought he’d made a safe bet. Two weeks later, when he came to pick us up from my uncle’s house I called him over to the tree and climbed hand-over-hand all the way up. I don’t even remember if he paid me, but I’ll never forget the look on his face.
Spending as much time as we did in the country, I gravitated toward books with rural settings. We had a dog that just appeared at my aunt’s house one day and stayed, and for a few months, a pet raccoon until he escaped from his pen. They’re pretty clever. So Old Yeller entranced me like very few books ever did. Written by Fred Gipson, illustrated by Carl Burger and published in 1956, Old Yeller tells the story of young Travis Coates, who has to help take care of his family’s ranch while his father is away on a cattle drive. Named for his dirty yellow coat and his strange way of barking, Old Yeller saves Travis and his family many times from the dangers that life on the frontier brings. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that I tried to elicit the same emotions that Old Yeller brought me in my depiction of the relationship between Telemachos and Argos in my own novel. Wait. What’s this strange wet stuff on my face?
My Side of the Mountain
I think I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean George at least twenty times. I checked it out of our school library week after week, and I'm sure I deprived a lot of other potential readers the joys of experiencing that great novel. Sorry about that. The story is quite simple: fifteen-year-old Sam Gribley is tired of living in his cramped New York city apartment with his many siblings and runs away to his great grandfather’s abandoned farm to live in the wilderness there. Along the way he has to live off the land, tames a falcon and weasel, and eventually learns how to build stronger relations with the people he loves. Back then though, I didn’t care about the moral; for me it was just and adventure story and an escape from my own life at home. My own family had begun to change at the time I was reading the novel. My father had remarried and now I had two stepsiblings with whom I didn’t get along at first. Even worse, I was no longer spending much time in the country with my beloved aunt and uncle. My Side of the Mountain probably kept me from running away from home until our family figured out how to get along, although I still think it would have been pretty cool to have a pet falcon.
So these were my favorite middle school novels. I often wonder if I were growing up today with all the distractions provided by cable television, smart phones and video games if I would have found these classics. Would a librarian have steered me to them? Would I have found them in an old country store? A garage sale? I can only hope so.
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Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will love this reimagining of Homer’s The Odyssey told from the point of view of Odysseus’s loyal dog, Argos.
Now available in paperback, this rousing story of devotion and determination is an original take on one of the most beloved myths of all time.
For twenty years, the great hero Odysseus struggles to return to home on Ithaka. He defeats monsters. He outsmarts the Cyclops. He battles the gods. He does whatever it takes to reunite with his family.
And what of that family—his devoted wife, Penelope; his young son, Telemachos; his dog, Argos? For those twenty years, they wait, unsure whether they will ever see Odysseus again. But Argos has found a way to track his master.
Any animal who sets foot or wing on Ithaka brings him news of Odysseus’s epic voyage. These tales bring hope that one day his master will return. Meanwhile, Argos the loyal dog watches over his master’s family and protects them from the dangers that surround a throne without its king.
About the Author: Ralph Hardy graduated from the University of North Carolina and received an MFA from Columbia College, Chicago. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife and two children. He is also the author of Lefty and The Cheetah Diaries.