Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 6 to 9
- Grade: 1 to 4
- Reading age: 6 to 9
Based on a true story, a stray dog befriends an orphan boy in a refugee camp on a Greek island.
The fishermen on Lesvos call her Kanella because of her cinnamon color. She’s a scrawny, nervous stray — easily intimidated by the harbor cats and the other dogs that compete for handouts on the pier.
One spring day a dinghy filled with weary, desperate strangers comes to shore. Other boats follow, laden with refugees who are homeless and hungry. Kanella knows what that is like, and she follows them as they are taken to a makeshift refugee camp. There she comes to trust a bearded man, an aid worker, and gradually settles into a contented routine. Kanella grows healthy and confident. She has a job now — to keep watch over the people in her camp.
One day, a little boy arrives and does not leave like the others. He seems to have no family and, like Kanella, he is taken in by the workers. He sleeps on a cot in the food hut, and Kanella keeps him warm and calm. When two new adults come to the camp. Kanella is ready to defend the boy from them, until she is pulled away by the bearded man. They are the boy’s parents, and now he must go with them.
Eventually, the camp is dismantled, and Kanella finds herself homeless again. Until one night, huddled in the cold, she awakens to see two bright lights shining in her eyes — the headlights of a car. The bearded man has come back for her, and soon Kanella is on a journey, too, to a new home of her own.
Key Text Features
Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:
Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
About the authors
MELISSA IWAI is the illustrator of more than 30 books, including Night Shift Daddy by Eileen Spinelli.
Excerpt: The Stray and the Strangers (by (author) Steven Heighton; illustrated by Melissa Iwai)
All too soon the boy and the two boat strangers were climbing aboard a rumbling bus.
Kanella stood beside the bearded man, who was kneeling and gripping her by the ruff.
“You stay here with us, Kanella. This is your home, for now. He and his family will have to travel on and find one for themselves.”
With panicked eyes she watched the bus door close. Why was the bearded man allowing the boy to leave the camp?
The boy’s round face appeared in a square window, the woman’s face behind his. As she waved, she smiled, but the boy did not.
A frantic squeal burst out of Kanella’s chest. She wrenched herself free and sprinted after the bus as it pulled out onto the road.
[A] gently told story of refugees … [with] a lovely, unique tone.
The International Educator Blog
Beautifully written start to finish, this book is an absolute gem. … It’s a book that crosses all age lines. Get it. Read it. And please, Steven Heighton, write more young peoples’ books.
YA Dude Books Blog
A tender and compassionate story.
School Library Journal
Kids who read this exceptional story will surely feel the importance of understanding the plight of refugees running from untenable conditions.
Sal's Fiction Addiction Blog
[S]uitable for reluctant readers.
Winnipeg Free Press
[T]he story as told from a dog’s perspective really drives home the point that compassion and kindness go a long way in life.
Mr. Alex's Bookshelf Blog
Based on a true story, a poignant, heartwarming introduction to the lives of refugees. STARRED REVIEW
The Stray and the Strangers is not only a must-read, but it would be excellent as a teaching tool for human relations, globalization, empathy toward refugees and immigrants and basic human kindness.
CM Review of Materials
Other titles by Steven Heighton
Instructions for the Drowning
Selected Poems 1983–2020
The Virtues of Disillusionment
Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos
Locations of Grief
An Emotional Geography
Celebrating 100 Years of Al Purdy
The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep
The Waking Comes Late
The Waking Comes Late special hardcover edition