It's tough when you aren't living up to the family standards. Chester, a chocolate lab, is worried he isn't measuring up. His family has always been among the dogs trained and chosen to be Seeing Eye Dogs but Chester has not quite made the grade and has been shifted over to the Service Dog. His trainer is a caring woman named Penny who has come to recognize how amazingly smart Chester is. She sees how much he understands. After many months together, it's now time for Chester to go to the special day where someone will choose him to be their Service Dog. He is going to meet the person is meant to help.
Well, you know how it feels when you aren't picked for the team? No one picks Chester. Penny decides to use the extra time she has with this amazing dog to begin to teach him how to read. That's how smart she knows him to be. Then, the phone rings and it's Chester's day. He and Penny go to meet the mother, the father and the boy named Gus who will be Chester's new family and Gus will be the person Chester is meant to help.
Being a smart dog, Chester watches Gus and learns to see what Gus likes and what Gus doesn't like. He watches all of Gus' cues to figure out what Gus needs from him. It takes a while. As the story unfolds, we get to meet different characters who are able to tune into who Gus is and what Gus needs and we also meet the characters who simply judge and label Gus and ignore him as a person.
Chester watches the bully that none of the teachers see. Chester sees the beginning of a friendship that could mean something to Gus. Chester admires Mama who works in the cafeteria and who knows Gus doesn't like the counting, one-two-three. Chester sees inside of Gus and can feel how it feels to be Gus.
The rest of the world around Gus struggles to figure out what is best for him. Should he go to school with kids his own age? Can he be safe? Is it safe to have a dog in school? Will Gus' parents be able to understand why he likes scary things..like a forest filled with monsters?
Told through the voice of Chester, this book makes a great bridge for readers to understand what it's like to be a person with autism. It makes a great bridge to understanding how to accept anyone as an individual with different needs and wants and likes. Dogs make great ambassadors. They see and sense so much about us that is really important and this dog, Chester, opens up the world of our differences and each other's experiences and invites us to accept and join in that place.
272 pages 978-0062330697 Ages 8-12
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
Critically acclaimed author Cammie McGovern presents a heartwarming and humorous middle grade novel about the remarkable bond that forms between an aspiring service dog and an autistic boy in need of a friend. “Joyful, inspiring, and completely winning, Chester and Gus is unforgettable,” proclaimed Katherine Applegate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan.
Chester has always wanted to become a service dog. When he fails his certification test, though, it seems like that dream will never come true—until a family adopts him. They want him to be a companion for their ten-year-old son, Gus, who has autism. But Gus acts so differently than anyone Chester has ever met. He never wants to pet Chester, and sometimes he doesn’t even want Chester in the room. Chester’s not sure how to help Gus since this isn’t exactly the job he trained for—but he’s determined to figure it out. Because after all, Gus is now his person.
In the spirit of beloved classics like Because of Winn-Dixie, Shiloh, and Old Yeller, Cammie McGovern’s heartfelt novel—told from Chester’s point of view—explores the extraordinary friendship between a child and a dog with a poignant and modern twist.