Moments of Wonder: Life with Moritz is Barry Schieber’s fifth book inspired by his Bernese mountain dog, Moritz. This is perhaps my favorite of the books, because it conveys more of the mystery of how Moritz works with and transforms the people he meets. Schieber’s earlier books are Nose to Nose: A Memoir of Healing; A Gift to Share: The Story of Moritz; An Open Heart; A Story About Moritz; and A Peaceful Mind: Travels with Moritz.
The Bernese mountain dog once carried items for weavers, butchers, dairy farmers and toolmakers. Long popular in Europe, where it originated (Bern, Switzerland), the breed has been in the U.S. since 1936. This canine is one of the most beautiful of the breeds, distinguished by its tri-color silky coat. The dog, with its double coat and its friendly, laid-back disposition, generally weighs in at around 75 to 85 pounds. It prefers colder climates; true to form, Moritz comes most alive in the fall and winter.
Schieber bought Moritz while in Switzerland, recovering from a bout with cancer. European-bred dogs often live longer than those bred in the United States, presumably because of superior diet and perhaps fewer vaccinations. Moritz is now eight and weighs in at 115 pounds.
The book is organized into 12 chapters, corresponding to 12 months, each centering on one special interaction. Moritz is the star; he always makes a positive impression and is incredibly sensitive to those he works with. A therapy dog, he visits children, the elderly, the dying, nursing home residents and more. Almost no one remains unchanged after meeting him, however briefly.
All the instances moved me, but two are especially tender. In November, Barry and Moritz visit a middle school in Polson, Montana. The children have read the previous Moritz books so are anxious to meet their canine hero. The teacher, Lou Anne Krantz, has asked the students to bring in old books that she will exchange for a coupon to buy Nose to Nose at discount. They also need to write down their reasons for wanting Mortiz’s book. The contributed books will be sent to Papua, New Guinea, where many children have no books. (The children end up contributing more than 1,000 books.) A committee of teachers then chooses the best letters, and the winners each win a free book, “pawprinted by me and autographed by Barry,” writes narrator Moritz.
One of the winning letters is published in this chapter, in the child’s handwriting, giving one of his reasons for wanting the book to be that his grandmother has just lost her husband and is lonely. “She has 14 cats, 4 dogs and a lot of cows. So I would give it to her to give her a happy moment.”
May also heralds a school visit, this one to an elementary school. A teacher, Sandy Johnson, has a warm interaction with Moritz. “My nose moves down her leg, and I spend awhile exploring her right ankle, sniffing, smelling, and licking once or twice.”
But all of a sudden, Sandy starts sobbing. What is this? After the children leave, she admits they are tears of joy at Moritz’s kindness and perception. Her foot has been operated on three times; she will have one more surgery in Seattle soon to see if they can save her foot. “Somehow I feel Moritz is aware of my pain and fear. I felt he was trying gently to reassure me that my foot will v saved, and I will be fine.”
A few days later, Sandy calls up Barry (and Moritz) to give them the good news that her foot was saved. She felt Moritz helped her to stop worrying so much and hope for the best.
As is true in the other Moritz books, the author has chosen a different illustrator this time. All the illustrators have done a fine job at getting this beautiful dog down on paper, but this reader might have preferred consistency in an illustrator, an author and a dog to follow and look forward to. However, I suspect Schieber is giving several artists a chance to be in print, a generous gesture. Who knows? Maybe it was Moritz’s idea.
All ostensibly for children, the targeted age range of Schieber’s readers varies. If the child will read Moments of Wonder himself/herself, then this one would seem geared to those eight years and up. Adults should enjoy its simplicity, as well. (On Schieber’s website, it says the book is appropriate for those 4 to 94. I’d say 7 or 8 to 107 or 108)
This is a charming, inspiring, life-affirming book. All of us who love dogs are not terribly surprised at Moritz’ s power. But this large canine certainly is amazingly canny, sensitive and gentle. For those who have not shared their lives with dogs, this book (and the others in the Moritz series) should help win canines, in general, a few more badly needed friends and defenders.