Kid's Stuff -- Books About Puppies And Dogs
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"Some Dogs Do"
Written by Jez Alborough
Illustrated by Jez Alborough
(Candlewick, 2003)

A young boy (played here by a young dog) walks to school and accidentally discovers he can fly. When he gets to school, nobody believes him and all the kids make fun of him (teachers, too). When he goes home, dejected, his dad reveals to him that he can fly, too, and they have a happy ending all to themselves. Although the flying part is (obviously) on the fantastical side, the it's-okay-to-be-different message is welcome. Nice rhyming text, too. This one didn't really wow me, but it's still kinda fun. (B-)


"Be Brown!"
Written by Barbara Bottner
Illustrated by Barry Gott
(Grossett & Dunlap, 2002)

(-)


"May I Pet Your Dog?"
Written by Stephanie Calmenson
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Clarion, 2007)

A straightforward primer to show small children the safest way to meet and approach strange dogs. Although this doesn't provide much in the way of dramatic storytelling, it does offer very practical information, in a way that may appeal to kids. Ask the owners first; show the dog your hand and let them sniff it before you try petting them; pet dogs from the side, not over their heads; pay attention to warning signs like crouching or growling, and don't make eye contact with an angry or anxious dog. As a narrative, this is pretty clunky, but even if you only get one or two readings out of it, the information they impart will be very valuable. (B)


"Slippers At Home"
Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Dutton Books, 2004)

A cutesy, but not overly cloying story of a bright-eyed, happy little puppy (named Slippers) who loves all the humans in his house -- the mommy, the daddy, the young girl and the toddler, Edward, whom he likes to play tug-of-war with, using doggie toys and old socks. The story is told from Slippers' point of view, and the narrative conceit does get a little precious at times (Slippers smells his way around the house; some of the wording is a little bit weird, like when the puppy calls the girl's bedroom her "place," etc...) But overall this is a nice book; nothing violent or weird, just a white, apple-cheeked, middle-class family, as seen through the eyes of their dog. This doesn't speak to great artistic depths, but it's an okay, innocuous read. (B-)


"Slippers At School"
Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Dutton Books, 2004)

There's more action -- and more comedy -- as Slippers climbs into Laura's backpack and stows away to her first day at school. He romps around from classroom to classroom, and even gets spotted by the principal, before sneaking back into the bag and making it back home. It's meant to be a rollicking good time, and probably is, for the right kids. We liked this book okay, though the characters aren't really strong enough to capture your imagination. (Also see: Naptime For Slippers, from 2005.) (B-)


"Naptime For Slippers"
Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Dutton Books, 2005)

The formula is more strained here, as Slippers can't fall asleep and gets in all sorts of mild misadventures as he tosses and turns and flops his little puppy paws out of his doggy bed. This one didn't do much for me, but it's inoffensive and doesn't have any objectionable material, if "family" entertainment is a priority, this won't expose your kid to anything icky or weird. But it's not a very good book, either. (C+)


"Dot The Fire Dog"
Written by Lisa Desimini
Illustrated by Lisa Desimini
(Blue Sky Press, 2001)

The life of firefighters, seen through the eyes of a stationhouse Dalmation... The firefighters are first seen sitting around, waiting, until the alarm bell rings -- then they don their gear, and off they go to save the day! Dot rides alongside, wearing her very own fire helmet, and even saves a kitten from the fire. Although the text doesn't mention it, the fire crew is an admirably diverse group, balanced by gender and ethnicity, and as they race off to save the day, women do as much hard work as men... Desmini's angular artwork is colorful and bright, and has an "outsider" folk-art feel (though not so much as to detract from the story...) A nice addition to any fire truck-lovin' little one's library. (B+)


"Dog's ABC: A Silly Story About The Alphabet"
Written by Emma Dodd
Illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Dutton, 2000)

Emma Dodd's "Dog" series is a bright, colorful romp, featuring a good-natured, floppy-eared white dog, named Dog, who doesn't have a lot of personality (aside from enthusiasm), but who is quite likeable nonetheless. Here he has an adventurous romp that lead him through the alphabet... An ("A) apple bonks him on the head, he ("B") barks, a ("C") cat runs by, etc. It's an okay story; not great, but the artwork will draw you in, and dog is a likeable character, even if there's not much depth involved. (B-)


"Dog's Colorful Day: A Messy Story About Colors And Counting"
Written by Emma Dodd
Illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Dutton, 2001)

An odd and funny book about how Dog, who is all white except for the black spot on his left ear, gets covered in different colored spots while out on a walk. Splattered with orange juice, ice cream and mud, Dog arrives home and gets to take a bath. The subject matter is a little goofy -- our hero is getting all messy! -- but it invites commentary from the readers, and also teaches both colors and numbers, as we keep track of each splotch that coveres the poor pooch. Worth checking out. (B)


"Dog's Noisy Day"
Written by Emma Dodd
Illustrated by Emma Dodd
(Dutton, 2003)

Good old Dog is back... In this volume he goes for a walk and encounters various farm animals that go "moo" and "baa," etc. Admittedly, it's not terribly original -- if you've already read a bunch of barnyard books, this won't add much to the genre -- but if you've met Dog in his other books, you'll enjoy seeing him again here. I'd suggest coming to this book after reading some of Dodd's other stories. (B-)



Lynley Dodd (and Hairy McClary) -- see author profile


"Go Dog, Go!"
Written by P. D. Eastman
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1963)

One of the most famous of the "fake Dr. Seuss" Beginner's Books," P.D. Eastman's canine caper explores a variety of opposites -- stop/go, up/down, in/out, hot/cold, etc. This blandly written volume can be sheer torture for parents -- the writing is purposefully simplistic and flat -- but the fact that little kids love it so much is testament to its power... Plus, isn't it fun when the pink poodle and the yellow hound finally hook up at the end? One quibble: if "night is not a time for play" (pages 48-49), then why do we see three dogs having a party at night on a boat, earlier in the book? Stuff like that drives me crazy. But maybe that's just me. All in all, a deserving classic. Kids love it.
(B)


"Big Dog... Little Dog"
Written by P. D. Eastman
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1973)

A pretty pedestrian offering from the well-known Eastman. Two dogs are near-opposites, but best buddies anyway. They have a mildly engaging adventure and resolve a minor problem. This one's okay for little readers, but there's certainly better stuff you could read instead. One nice touch is the hitchhiking bird that follows them around -- a groovy anachronism from the hippie era when this was published.
(C+)


"Bark, George!"
Written by Jules Feiffer
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
(Harper Collins, 1999)

I grew up reading Jules Feiffer -- not these new picturebooks, of course, but other fables such as "Passionella" and "Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl" -- and as a teen I collected all the compilations of his classic strips. Thus, when I came across this book, it was love at first sight. Bark, George! is, without question, one of Feiffer's finest works, a lively, fantastic, funny story about a puppy who doesn't bark the way his mother wants him to. Instead, he meows and moos and quacks, so she takes him to the vet to see what's wrong. This book works on every level -- the story is well-paced, the jokes are funny, the artwork is fluid and full of life, and the structure of the text lends itself well to commentary and improvisation. This one will be on our shelves for a long time to come... and I've given away several copies as well. It's that good! (A++)


"I'll Teach My Dog 100 Words"
Written by Michael Frith
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1973)

An underappreciated winner from the "fake Dr. Seuss" Beginner's Books series... As an educational tool, this story is quite cleverly crafted: a man promises to teach his dog one hundred words, and as dog plows through an increasingly silly set of tasks, the narrator keeps tab of the number of words old Rover picks up. We learn colors, numbers, and various kooky concepts as the tally mounts. The text is funny, lively and rhymes well, and the story has a nice, zippy ending... This book's a real hoot! (A)


"Let's Get A Pup! Said Kate"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Candlewick, 2001)

One day, a young girl named Kate wakes up and decides it's time for the family to get a puppy... Her parents agree, and off they all zoom to the local animal shelter, where they find not one, but two dogs that tug at their hearts, the cute little puppy of their dreams and his companion, an older, bigger furball named Rosie. As with other Graham titles, it's nice to see scruffy, earringed, alterna-parents, and to see regular, non-rich families living nonchalantly amid urban environs... Plus, the story of how they wind up adopting both dogs is a real tear-jerker. A wonderful book! (A)


"The Trouble With Dogs... Said Dad"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Candlewick, 2007)

The much-welcome sequel to Graham's 2001 classic, Let's Get A Pup! Said Kate. Kate's family is back, with two new members: lovable, lumpy Rosie and the irrepressible, untrainable Dave, two dogs they'd rescued from the pound eight months earlier. An older dog, Rosie is totally mellow and housebroken, but Dave the pup is a holy terror, running through flower patches, tearing people's clothes and -- gasp! -- eating cupcakes off their plates. So, the laid-back slacker family once again turns to the phone book and calls up Pup Breakers, whose top dog trainer, codenamed the Brigadier, comes to bring poor Dave in to heel. The Brigadier is a no-nonsense, tough-love, discipline-first kinda guy, and a poor match for the softer-than-marshmallows familymembers... Or for poor Dave! After his first lesson, the puppy falls into a funk, and loses his "spark." Naturally, Kate (and her parents) tell the Brigadier his services will no longer be required, but he takes it surprisingly well. Here's another great book from Graham: Kate and her family have return with al their lovable quirks intact -- these are people you'll recognize, the tattooed, scruffy, sideburned hipsters who live down the street. Oh, and their dogs are pretty cute, too! (A+)


"Charles Of The Wild"
Written by John & Ann Hassert
Illustrated by John & Ann Hassert
(Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

A charming fable about a little city dog whose overprotective owner won't let him out to play, or even to walk on the ground! Charles escapes and is found by a helpful homeless person, who takes him to the park, where he runs wild and free all day long, before the man takes him home. His owner realizes her mistake, and lets Charles romp from that day on, and as a result Charles becomes a happier, less "moody" little pooch. Love the artwork and text on this one -- the Hassert's hit just the right tone throughout. (B+)


"Mutt Dog!"
Written by Stephen Michael King
Illustrated by Stephen Michael King
(Harcourt, 2004)

This one's a winner. Similar in feel to Bob Graham's groundbreaking urban-contemporary picturebooks, this tells the story of a shaggy, homeless stray who looks for shelter and food wherever he can find it... and along the way, we see the homeless humans who share his world, anonymous people clad in shabby clothes, sleeping under stairwells and in cardboard boxes, etc. By showing the people in proximity to the dog, but not making overt reference to their homelessness, this book skillfully imparts its message of compassion: if you feel sorry for this dog, then what about the people in the background? This light touch makes this book much more effective than some of the blunter, more heavyhanded kids books that address homelessness... And, it's a sweet story. When the woman who runs the shelter adopts the doggie and takes him home, there's not a dry eye in the house... Or on the street. Cute dog, too! (A)


"The Very Kind Rich Lady And Her One Hundred Dogs"
Written by Chinlun Lee
Illustrated by Chinlun Lee
(Candlewick, 2001)

A funny, goofy story about a woman who has one hundred dogs... Well, "story" may not be the right word for it, since the main point of this book is simply going through and naming each and every one of the dogs (and that takes a long time!), along with a quick runthough of the activities involved with taking care of so many pooches. Not much of a plot, nor much personality comes through... Nonetheless, the combination of dozens of deftly rendered, frisky critters and their gazillion fanciful names makes this a nice, quick read... The sounds flow quickly by and you can have fun pointing out individual dogs and trying to find them later on other pages. But beyond that, there really isn't much to this book -- it just is what it is: a lighthearted lark, and nothing more. This probably isn't for everyone, but for the right readers, it'll be lots of fun. I liked it, particularly the artwork, although it took a couple of tries before my daughter really warmed up to it. Afterwards, though, she'd really get into it and request it at storytime... (B)


"The Other Dog"
Written by Madeline L'Engle
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Sea Star, 2001)

Sibling rivalry, as seen through the eyes of the household dog, in this case, Touche L'Engle, a beloved pooch owned by the author of the famed "Wrinkle In Time" children's sci-fi series. The story is told in the first person from the canine point of view, with Touche deciding that the little bundle the humans have brought home must be another, inferior dog... Over the course of the book, the precocious poodle grows accustomed to the baby, and finally decides she really does like it, although she still thinks it's a dog. It's a clever concept, but the text could have used a lot of paring down -- the glib, gabby, humorous prose just goes on and on, and I imagine most children will zone out on it after a while, as we did. Perhaps L'Engle was a little too close to the subject, and found it hard to tone down the strong personality of her old pet -- the result is a book that's charming, but a bit dense and repetitive. A mixed bag.
(C)


"Floss"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Walker, 1992)
One of the classic Kim Lewis books, but also one of the more bummerly. Floss is a sweet sheepdog who has ben raised in town, where he plays with the local children and is generally quite content. For unexplained reasons, Floss' owner decides to give him to one of his sons, who has a sheep ranch in the country, and Floss is soon reprimanded for being playful, even when he is not herding the flock. Later the farmer relents and allows Floss to play with the children again, but the emotional tone is kind of harsh. Really little kids won't get what's going on, or why the doggie is being yelled at... I'm not sure I do, either. Beautiful artwork, though!
(B-)


"Little Puppy"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Walker Books, 2001)
One of the nicest and simplest of Kim Lewis' farm books set in the English countryside. None of the too-realistic severity of the author's other books is present in this slim volume, making it ideal for the smallest of readers. A little girl named Katie visits a newborn litter of puppies and falls in love with the first one to open its eyes. The story is sweet, simple and short, almost like a haiku, and lends itself to being read again and again. Perfectly captures the magic of a small child learning about baby animals. Recommended!
(A)


"Bittle"
Written by Emily & Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Joanna Cotler, 2004)

A sweet story written by the mother-daughter team of Patricia and Emily MacLachlan, in which the arrival of a new baby is seen through the eyes of the household pets, a pragmatic cat called Nigel and a neurotic canine named Julia. When the baby comes, the "man and the woman" assume it sleeps peacefully all night long, which leaves it up to Nigel and Julia to pick up the slack in the childcare department. Although the dog is initially resentful of the newcomer, she grows to love her, as does the cat. So close is their bond, in fact, that the Bittle's first words are "woof" and "meow!" This bright, playful romp is a fun way to approach the whole anxiety-about-the-second-child, sibling rivalry issue -- it also reads well for single-child families; the doggie and the kitty are engaging all by themselves, and the story is a hoot. The highly stylized, cartoonish art by Dan Yaccarino is a delight... Yaccarino, a television animator who has recently emerged as a picturebook author, adds a liveliness and good humor that perfectly matches that of the text. Great book!
(A)


"Ten Dogs In The Window"
Written by Claire Masurel
Illustrated by Pamela Paparone
(North-South Books, 1997)

A fun 10-to-1 counting/subtraction book where ten dogs, all from different breeds, wait in a pet shop window to get picked out and adopted. It's also a nice guessing game: on one page we see a person walk up, perhaps a clown or a businessman, a jogger or a Jerry Garcia-ish hippie, and try and guess which, of the remaining dogs that person will pick. Nice artwork and nice concept... the rhyming text, while not as snappy or as strong as it might have been, is still pretty good. My kid really got into this one, at least for a while. (B+)


"Theodor And Mr. Balbini"
Written by Petra Mathers
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
(Harper & Row, 1988)

Wouldn't it be so cool if suddenly one day your pet could talk and tell you all the things that were on its mind? Yeah, you'd think so, wouldn't you? But when mild-mannered Mr. Balbini's black lab Theodor starts speaking up, all that he can do is complain and boss his human around... And he never stops talking! Yak, yak, yak, gripe, gripe, gripe. Quit giving me canned food... change the TV channel... let's walk someplace else today... Just as Mr. Balbini thinks he can't stand it any longer, Theodor finds a hobby -- French cooking -- and gets along so well with the teacher that he moves in with her. This is a very funny, very dry, very absurd shaggy dog story... You have to be on the right wavelength to enjoy it, but if you are, you'll love it. We did! (B+)


"Sparky"
Written by Flora McDonnell
Illustrated by Flora McDonnell
(Candlewick, 1999)

The best of McDonnell's books so far! A big, cheerful, brightly colored story about a little puppy named Sparky who comes into a new household and meets his girl, Mary, who he thinks must be "another kind of puppy." They play together all day long, then at night curl up and fall asleep on her bed. This book perfectly captures the pure, loving bond between a child and a pet, and has a bold visual appeal that will instantly capture a child's eye. Recommended!
(A)


"Widget"
Written by Lyn Rossiter McFarland
Illustrated by Jim McFarland
(Farar Strauss Giroux, 2001)

I'm not wild about this book, but my wife loves it and the baby gives it a good reception, so I guess I'm outvoted. A cold, hungry, stray dog (very much like McDuff, in the first McDuff book) comes across a house full of cats, and starts acting like a cat so he will fit in and be able to stay and get fed. One day, though, the little old lady with the six cats falls over and gets hurt (too scary, if you ask me!) and its only when Widget reclaims his dogginess -- and barks for help -- that she is able to be saved by the neighbors. I wasn't that into the writing or the artwork, which both seemed a little clunky, though effective nonetheless. Mostly I guess it's the scary element of the old lady almost dying and the hostility between the animals (which involves a lot of hissing and snarling before Widget fits in) that make this a B-list book for me. It's okay, though. (B-)


"Widget And The Puppy"
Written by Lyn Rossiter McFarland
Illustrated by Jim McFarland
(Farar Strauss Giroux, 2004)

The sequel to Widget -- in which Widget is placed in charge of a troublesome, rambunctious puppy -- is less fresh and unique. I suppose some kids might squeal with delight at the puppy's misadventures, but it met with a pretty muted response around here. (C)


"Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!"
Written by Susan Meyers
Illustrated by David Walker
(Harry N. Abrams, 2005)

An iffy follow-up to Meyers' delightful Everywhere Babies. This aims at the same sort of universality, but descends into mere uber-cuteness. Part of it is the subject matter, part of it is the art -- puppies just don't do as many things as babies, and there's much less detail here than in Marla Frazee's work on the Babies book. Also, this is just intentionally a too-cute book, not in a sappy or sentimental way (which I sometimes like) but just in a cutesy-wootsy way, which is less interesting. For the right reader, this will be wonderful, but no one around here was really wowed by it. I think there's a cat one, too. (C)


"Cat And Dog"
Written by Else Homelund Minarik
Illustrated by Fritz Seibel
(Harper & Row, 1960)

I always fall for this one: I see it at the library and think, Oh goodie! An old-fashioned book about a cat and a dog written by the lady who did the Little Bear books with Maurice Sendak... That'll be fun! And then I try and read it, and its full of brainless Tom & Jerry-style violence. Boring and violent. You can skip it and miss absolutely nothing. (F)


"The Cat Barked?"
Written by Lydia Monks
Illustrated by Lydia Monks
(Dial Books, 1998)

A funny, whimsical British import wherein an orange, stripey kitty-kat complains to its girl that it would rather be a dog than a cat, since dogs get all the glamour, praise and good PR. The girl convinces the "silly old cat" that being feline isn't so bad after all (you get to nap all day long and don't have to fetch sticks...) and all is right in the universe again. What's great about this book -- apart from the playful premise and well-written rhymes -- is the groovy, collage-style artwork, which is packed with loopy, humorous, richly textured details... Lots to laugh about here, and plenty of details to point out and talk about to little ones as well. Recommended! This one's a favorite around here... (A)




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