Winnetka girl earns dog through reading
In a deal he struck with his daughter Ellie, John DiCola mistakenly thought he set a reading goal high enough that Ellie would not reach it and earn the dog she wanted. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:12AM
Ellie DiCola has wanted a dog since she was in kindergarten. And the 9-year-old got her wish, or rather earned it, recently.
When Ellie started asking for a dog, her mother Becky DiCola was ready to stall her by saying she had to wait until she was 6.
But Becky recalls her husband John DiCola said, “Oh no, we have to put this off longer.”
John did not have a dog when he was growing up, but he always wanted one.
“Then I had kids and thought that’s enough responsibility,” he said.
So John told his daughter she could have a dog if she read 500 books.
“I thought 500 would take years,” John said. “I thought she’d never collect.”
He was right and he was wrong. It did take years, but Ellie who is a fourth-grader at Winnetka’s Crow Island School, read her 500th book, “The World According to Humphrey,” in March and two weeks ago she collected on his promise.
Ellie and her family brought home Cody, an 8-week-old golden retriever from a breeder in Elmhurst.
“The first day it was available we went and picked it up,” John said.
Ellie herself had not believed that day would come. When her father set the 500-book challenge, Ellie thought, “I’m never going to do that.”
But Ellie said her mother encouraged her: “Why don’t we start right now,” she suggested. They did and kept track of the books she read.
“At first, we had this big list on the wall,” Ellie said. “Then we put it on the computer.”
But they noticed that sometimes the number of books they had listed as read decreased.
“We had 24 books and then the next day it was only 19,” Becky said. She and her daughter rightly suspected that was Dad’s interference.
As the pace of Ellie’s reading picked up, her father became more particular about which books should count.
“None of these ‘scratch & sniff’ books,” John said.
Ellie and her mother went back to writing the list longhand to safeguard it from sabotage.
“For her 500th book, John wanted her to read, ‘War and Peace,’” Becky said. Her husband was just trying to postpone the inevitable. “Ellie won in the end,” her mom said, and she chose her dog.
“I heard golden retrievers are really, good kind dogs,” Ellie said. “Lots of my friends said golden retrievers are really cool, and they seem sweet, so I said okay.”
Ellie, who is the oldest of four children, realized her new dog had to feel comfortable with an active family.
“I knew I was going to get a boy dog, because boys are calmer,” Ellie said. “With four kids, I thought, calm dog.”
Ellie has inspired her siblings. Her 6-year-old brother Peter has bargained for a bunny if he reads 500 books, and 4-year-old Matilda wants a gerbil. John DiCola is glad the pets they want are getting smaller.
Although Ellie said she might ask for a car next.