There’s the old joke refuting the belief that dogs can’t count. If they are accustomed to receiving two cookies every morning, the story goes, try giving them one and see if the dog goes away. It’s not so much a lesson in mathematics as it is a lesson in focus — especially on something the dog wants and expects.

I’m reminded of that intense single-mindedness in Sally McIlwain’s debut children’s book Carly’s 10! — the story of a girl turning 10 years old and obsessed with the notion that she will be getting a puppy as her present.

If you ever think kids aren’t listening, just remember they hear what they want to hear — and will never let go of a thought that is attractive and important to them. 

McIlwain writes, “Her mom always told her that when a girl turned 10 years old, she was at the age where she could handle the responsibility of owning a pet.”

Those words were etched into Carly’s mind. As the book begins, Carly wakes up eagerly. It is her 10th birthday, and she has every reason to believe she will be getting that puppy.

Or will she?


She comes down to breakfast expecting a furry friend and is greeted with a plate of homemade pancakes dripping with maple syrup.

Then her mom comes back with something fluffy in her arms — a bunch of towels.

Perhaps when mom brings cupcakes to Carly’s school for her class birthday celebration, the puppy will come along. Or at the birthday gathering later on at Grandma’s house. 

Lots of cake, many presents, but something’s still missing.

As the story progresses, young readers will easily be able to relate to Carly’s plight. She is anxiously expecting something, tries her best to remain hopeful, but starts to wonder if she had misread the situation and her mother’s speech about what it means to be 10.

“What had she done wrong? Wasn’t she mature enough? Wasn’t she responsible enough? Didn’t anybody love her? All those thoughts were running through Carly’s mind,” writes McIlwain.


As an elementary school teaching assistant, McIlwain certainly understands the mind of a young child and has the character traits down pat — from the behavior to the expectations to the emotions. Raising a daughter of her own adds to her creds.

McIlwain keeps the suspense and anticipation at high levels for young readers, and the plot progresses swiftly and fluidly, with a recurring theme structure of Carly hoping and then not getting. The story is enhanced by colorful and emotive pictures by Blueberry Illustrations.

By the end of the book, readers want to see a playful pup in Carly’s arms as much as she does. Carly is a good kid and is appreciative of all the birthday cards, parties, wishes and presents. But is there a big prize yet to come? 

Take a look at Carly’s 10! It’s a landmark birthday that kids should remember. We know Carly will.

Buy this book!

Sally McIlwain has worked as an elementary school teacher’s assistant and piano instructor. Carly’s 10! is her first work of children’s literature. She enjoys banking, playing the piano and playing with her dog Parnelli. She has one adult daughter and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband of 39 years. Carly’s 10! Is the first in a planned series of six books. Learn more at