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Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears (Helper Hounds)

Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears (Helper Hounds)

By: Caryn Rivadeneira
Illustrated by: Priscilla Alpaugh
Publisher: Red Chair Press
Publication Date: January 2020
ISBN: 978-1634407755
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: May 21, 2022

Penny, a frightened pit bull who has her life turned around through love, passes that love along to children in this great addition to the Helper Hounds series by Caryn Rivadeneira.

Penny’s life started out full of promise in a house with a family that seemed nice. But then the other dog who lived in the house, a very opinionated Chihuahua, decided Penny had to go. Poor Penny wound up living in the backyard, chained to a shed. Eventually, she escaped and found herself living “on the street.”

After living on the streets and surviving a harsh Chicago winter, Penny finds love and understanding from Miguel, a gentle man who knew Penny had lots to offer. Recognizing Penny’s sweet nature and abundance of love, she is sent to Helper Hounds University. At this special school, Penny learns many tricks, as well as traveling to numerous places like schools and hospitals where she learns to handle many different situations. She also meets a variety of dogs, cats, and horses as well as lots of people. Penny is learning how to be a special dog who will be able to help people in need.

Soon Penny graduates and gets busy helping children overcome fears as well as simply being a huggable, and lovable, best friend for those who need some extra attention. But then Miguel tells Penny about a very important assignment – they need to help a special young girl, Portia, overcome her fear of dogs. There are two very scary (to Portia) dogs living near her family and she doesn’t know how to handle her fear. And Portia has extra challenges too – she has Down Syndrome and has had to deal with negative attitudes from people who think she can’t do anything. Will Penny be able to help Portia learn to not fear dogs?

Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears is an early-reader chapter book, suitable for ages 6 to 9. Narrated by Penny, a happy-go-lucky pit bull who has a tendency to always look on the bright side of things, readers will quickly fall in love with this special dog. Penny inserts some humor into her tale and plenty of doggie facts, including how misunderstood pit bulls are in today’s world. As the mom of a rescued pit bull myself, I loved this aspect of the story. The storytelling has a nice, easy flow, is never preachy, and has numerous touching moments. There is also enough suspense throughout the story to keep readers intrigued and anxious to learn if Penny will be successful with Portia. Add in “Miguel’s Never-Fear Dog Tips” at the back of the book and the charming illustrations, and Penny and her adventure is a winner for dog lovers and in fact, all animal lovers. Kudos to the author for using a much-maligned breed of dog to show children the undying love dogs have, as well as the determination of one very special young girl with Down syndrome.

Quill says: Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears is an excellent addition to the Helper Hounds series that helps children learn to deal with their fears. With Penny's help, readers will recognize that while dreams can sometimes be scary, understanding and facing your fears, particularly with the help of a fluffy dog friend, is possible and indeed, can be a fun and positive experience.

For more information on Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears (Helper Hounds), please visit the publisher's website at

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