‘Saving Zasha’ by Randi Barrow


Rating: 5 stars

Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow is a middle grade story that will touch the hearts of all who read it.

This story is different than most books written for children aged nine to twelve. It takes place in post-World War II Russia, an unusual setting and an unusual time period for children’s book settings.

Saving Zasha revolves around Zasha, a beautiful German shepherd who arrives into the life of Mikhail with her wounded owner. Mikhail brings them both to the farmhouse where he lives with his mother, his older brother and his younger sister. His father, a Russian soldier, has not returned from the war although Mikhail refuses to believe that he is dead.

The wounded man dies immediately, and Mikhail and his family adopt Zasha. There’s a huge problem, though. Because of the war, most of the dogs in Russia are dead–either used by the soldiers as weapons of war or starved to death. Now, because of the national hatred for Germany and everything German, all dogs of German ancestry are hated and killed.

There are also dog thieves who steal dogs to sell at a huge profit. And in these uncertain times, it becomes very dangerous for Mikhail and his family to keep Zasha.

But the bond between Zasha and Mikhail was immediate. She is intelligent, loving and affectionate, and Mikhail will go to any lengths to protect Zasha and keep her safe.

In addition to the dog thieves, there are others who would take Zasha. A classmate of Mikhail’s, who aspires to be an investigative reporter, snoops around and suspects that they are harboring a dog.

Mikhail and his family are close-knit and strong and their love for Zasha helps them overcome many obstacles. However, this book is not for the faint of heart. The stories about the abuse of dogs in war are blunt and will shock many young readers.

But the main message in the story is one of hope, and the happiness and joy a loving dog can bring to a family–especially to a fatherless boy who has lost much in a savage war.

This book would be a perfect choice for reluctant boy readers although girl readers will love it just as much.

Interview with Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, authors of ‘The Tilted World’


A charming and talented couple -- Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin tour to promote "The Tilted World"
Wonderful historical fiction about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly are very much in demand since publication of their co-authored historical novel, “The Tilted World.” The novel is based on The Great Flood of 1927, an event which has been forgotten by most Americans in spite of its importance to our history.

The book got its start as a short story the two cowrote. Tom heard a song by Randy Newman, “Louisiana 1927” and it caught his imagination, so he and Beth Ann wrote a story about two revenue men who find a baby during the time of the flood. When Tom’s agent read the story, he told Tom that making it into a book would be Tom and Beth Ann’s next project. Then Tom had to convince Beth Ann.

Beth Ann relates what happened next. She said, “In poetry, there is no money or respect. Poetry is the Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. So when Tom suggested it, I said, ‘I would never stoop so low.’ I was teasing him.” She continued, “The story was so great, the history so interesting, it seemed crazy but right.”

Writing the book together was a very intimate collaboration. Tom openly admits that Beth Ann wrote 75% of the book. “I’m a ‘C’ student, and she’s an ‘A’ student. My fear was that her part would be done and mine not started.”

And that’s just what happened. So they wrote his half together. And although Tom, obviously a consummate gentleman, insisted that her name be on top on the cover, their agent convinced them that as a published, better-known author, Tom’s name should be first.

What surprised them most during their exhaustive research? Beth Ann, who is from Lake Forest, Illinois, said that she was amazed by “how giant it was and my ignorance. It shaped our nation in so many ways. And I had never heard of it until I was 30 years old and moved to Mississippi.”

The flood had a huge hand in shaping the Chicago of today. Many sharecroppers lost their fields and fled north on trains. With them, they brought a special kind of music — the blues.

The book is meticulously researched. Beth Ann explained that if the book says three men died attempting to dynamite the levee, it really happened. The only fiction is the town of Hobnob and the characters. “The research was so fascinating, it was dangerous. It got to the point where learning more wasn’t going to help with writing the novel but help procrastinate.”

Watching Tom and Beth Ann seamlessly present the story and read together, it’s obvious that they are very much a team — professionally and personally. They live in Oxford, Mississippi, and both teach at the University of Mississippi. And Tom proudly pointed out that Beth Ann is on her way to becoming a true Southerner. She used the expression, “I’m fixin to…”

It’s to be hoped that “The Tilted World” is not their last collaboration. There are lots and lots of fans waiting to see what comes next.