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Home » Book Review » How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving

How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving

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How to Train Your Dad

by Gary Paulsen

Carl is the twelve year old narrator of this middle grade book which has a very conversational style. The vocabulary is somewhat advanced for a twelve year old, but that is because Pooder, Carl’s best friend who helps him write the story, goes through phases of interest (British, Navy seal, etc.). His various fascinations show up in his speech. Pooder admires Carl’s dad who, besides a few odd jobs, lives by bartering. Carl’s dad is very intelligent, mechanically inclined, and very kind. He trades energy (labor) for goods. He considers himself rich as he recycles from dumpsters or his neighbor Oscar’s junk piles. He built a whole truck from discarded spare parts. He prizes function over form; so if an invention works, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

His dad’s philosophy has been fine with Carl until he reaches middle grades and suddenly becomes aware of Peg as “the” girl. His summer goal is to become “lookatable” by the time school starts which is hard to do when your dad barters for XL camo T-shirts and pink bib overalls decorated with words like “juicy.”

The book explores Carl’s efforts to train his father using the methods in a puppy training pamphlet. His efforts are hilarious as are the contraptions his father builds and the objects he brings home. A lot of the dumpster diving food goes to the pigs and chickens. Carl and his dad have a rescue pit bull Carol who is an integral part of their family and, despite her stinky habit of shredding skunks, is allowed to accompany them everywhere.

How to Train Your Dad is a fun story that tweenagers will enjoy. Its casual style and over the top anecdotes are sure to appeal.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Contains a very small amount of cussing

Intended ages: 10-14

Publication: October 5, 2021—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

She’s in my grade at school and everyone likes her and I have never ever ever seen her be catty or crabby or phony to anyone ever which is something like a miracle in middle school, if you ask me.

Sometimes Pooder jumping from phase to phase without warning can be a little confusing. He might start things off an English lord before suddenly becoming an advertising mogul looking to make some coin and then turn into a Viking biting deep on a tomato-apple so the juice runs down into his beard-if-he-had-one while he’s thinking of pillaging a coast somewhere.

My father loved to barter. To trade, as he thought of it, energies, abilities, knowledge. Trade everything he could so as not to use money. “I have a widget,” he explained to me when I was very small, “and John Doe has an extra electric frying pan he doesn’t need, but he needs a widget and so we trade. We barter. Simple and clean. It’s the very best and purest way to do business.”


  1. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a Gary Paulsen book, but his style resonates with me based on the quotes you pulled.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I just did a little background look at Gary Paulsen and discovered that he passed away at 82 just a few days after this book was published. He was a prolific writer of over 200 books, three of which were Newberry Honor books. Most of his writing was geared to teenagers, and he also wrote short stories, magazine articles, and plays. His most famous book is probably Hatchet. I read it many years ago. It is very different from the book I reviewed; it is a survival story about a boy who was in a plane crash and finds himself alone for 54 days.


  2. WendyW says:

    What an interesting premise. I don’t know anyone who lives by bartering, but it makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I don’t know anyone like that either, Wendy. I know people used to do it a lot, and I assume they still do in some countries. In this book the bartering ended up with some very funny deals.


  3. Gretchen says:

    I have enjoyed everything I have read by Gary Paulson. This one sounds hilarious! I can just picture poor Carl in his XL camo shirts with pink overalls 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carla says:

    This sounds fun. I like the concept of training his dad using a puppy manual. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

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