Notes from the Dog

By: 

Gary Paulsen

Number of Pages: 

133

Minimum grade level: 

6th

Finn is a self-described loser. He’s more comfortable with his books than with people, and he’s only got one “true friend” who doesn’t zone out when he talks. (Finn gets so nervous when he has to talk to people that he rambles on and on).

Luckily Finn has an amazing dog, named Dylan, who makes up for his lack of friends. Dylan sleeps on his bed and growls when anyone walks by their house, and he even accompanies Finn to the bathroom! “I don’t know what kind of Evil Potty Monster he envisions, but he sits by me when I pee to keep me safe from it,” Finn says.

After spending a school year with hordes of other kids, Finn’s goal for the summer is speak to fewer than a dozen people.

But then two things happen that totally destroy Finn’s plans:

Thing #1: Johanna moves in next door. She’s a graduate student in her 20s, and she’s battling breast cancer. She has a completely different personality than Finn—she seems to have thousands of friends and family members, and she wants Finn to get to know them all.

Thing #2: Dylan starts writing Finn notes. The first one says, “You’re not as ugly as you think.” Now Finn knows he has a smart dog, but can Dylan really write?

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Matthew figures out that Johanna's cancer is getting worse long before Finn does. When did you realize how serious the situation was?
  2. Finn says, "It's not that I don't like people, but they make me uncomfortable." Have you ever felt like Finn?
  3. Finn lists the groups in his school: the brainy people, the jocks, the "arty geeks" and the losers. Does your school have similar groups? Different ones? Where do you fit in?
  4. Have you ever grown a garden before? What did you grow? Do you have any gardening horror stories like Finn's?
  5. Johanna has Dylan deliver notes to Finn, notes which have messages Finn needs to hear. If you were in Finn's place, what would Johanna's notes to you say?
  6. Have you ever known someone with cancer? How was his/her experience similar to or different than Johanna's?
  7. Matthew and Finn are very different. Do you have friends who are different from you? How?
  8. Finn is not the only character who changes over the course of the book. Which other characters are changed by Johanna?
  9. What was your favorite part of the book? Your least favorite?
  10. Which character’s personality is more like yours: Matthew, Finn or Johanna?

If you liked this book, try

  • After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
  • Hope was Here by Joan Bauer
  • Defiance by Valerie Hobbs
  • Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
  • Slob by Ellen Potter

Activities

  • Finn's goal is to speak to less than a dozen people during the summer. For one day, track the number of people you speak to.
  • Plant a garden like Finn does.
  • Volunteer your time for a group that raises money to fight cancer.

Snacks

Something made with zucchini (zucchini bread? zucchini cake?) like the bumper crop from Finn's garden.