Tag Archive: dogs


sam and dave dig a hole

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Barnett and Klassen are an amazing picture book duo who have created with this book an instant classic.  Sam and Dave are two friends who set out to dig a hole on Monday.  They decide that they won’t stop digging until they find “something spectacular.”  They keep digging, deeper and deeper, missing jewels by just a few inches.  They stop and have chocolate milk and animal cookies and then continue to dig.  Maybe another direction will help them find treasure?  But readers will see as they take the turn that they miss the biggest gem yet.  The dog that is along with them though seems to realize that there are things right under the surface, but Sam and Dave don’t pay any attention to him.  They dig and dig, missing everything along the way until they are right above a dog bone.  The two boys take a nap and their dog continues to dig down until suddenly they are falling down from the hole into a world very like their own.  Readers who are paying close attention though will realize that it is a subtly different place.

Children love to dig in the dirt and I think every child has dreamed of digging a truly great hole and finding something amazing.  Barnett keeps his text very straight-forward and simple, allowing the humor to be in the near misses of the illustrations and the perceptiveness of the little dog.  It is this frank delivery that makes the humor of the illustrations really work, giving them a platform to build off of.  The ending is wonderfully open-ended, and some readers will miss the subtle differences and assume they are back home again.  Others though will see the changes and realize that no matter what Sam and Dave have discovered their “spectacular” something.

Klassen’s illustrations are wonderful.  I adore the way that he lets his characters look out from the page to the reader.  He did the same thing in both of his great “Hat” picture books and there is a strong connection from the page to the people enjoying the book.  His illustrations have a textured feel to them, an organic nature that reads particularly well in this dirt-filled world. 

An instant classic and one that will get readers talking about the open ending.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

rain reign

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rose loves homonyms.  She spends her days looking for new ones to add to her list, and then once she gets home adding them or rewriting the entire list if she runs out of space.  Her dog Rain has a name that has two homonyms: reign and rein, which is why she picked it.  Her father also gave her Rain on a rainy night.  He found Rain wandering around after he left the bar one night.  Rain is one of the best things in Rose’s life, since her father spends most evenings drinking at the bar and Rose spends them alone.  Luckily, she also has her uncle in her life.  He takes her to school, helps her find new homonyms, and protects her when necessary from her father when he loses patience with Rose.  Then a fierce storm hits their town and Rose’s father lets Rain out into the storm and she disappears.  Rose’s father refuses to explain why he let Rain out in a storm and also refuses to help Rose find her dog.  It is up to Rose to find Rain so she devises her own plan and calls on her uncle for help.  But when she finds Rain, she also discovers that Rain has other owners and Rose has to make a heartbreaking choice about right and wrong and love.

Martin captures a truly dysfunctional family on the page here.  Rose’s father is brutal, cruel and a constant threat in her life.  At the same time, the book glimmers with hope all of the time.  Rose herself is not one to dwell on the shortcomings of her life, preferring to immerse herself in her words, her dog and her time with her uncle.  Martin manages to balance both the forces of love and fear in this book, providing hope for children living with parents like this but also not offering a saccharine take on what is happening. 

Rose is an amazing character.  She talks about having Asperger’s syndrome and OCD.  She is the only child in her class with a full-time aide and it is clear from her behaviors in class that she needs help.  Yet again Martin balances this.  She shows how Rose attempts to reach out to her classmates and then how Rain helps make that possible and how Rose manages to use her own disability as a bridge to help others cope in times of loss.  It’s a beautiful and important piece of the story.

A dark book in many ways, this book shines with strong writing, a heroic young female protagonist and always hope.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

remy and lulu

Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy.  The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work.  He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style.  Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses.  Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it.  Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening.  What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?

This is a wonderfully rich picture book.  The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds.  It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance.  Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart.  Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy.  They are a solid pair.

Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work.  Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s.  The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself.  It’s a delight.

Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

im my own dog

I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein

This dog takes care of himself.  He tells himself to roll over, he throws a stick for himself and then goes to get it, he scratches his own itches.  Except for the one in the middle of his back, he can’t quite reach it.  So when a human follows him home and knows right where to scratch, the dog adopts him.  He teaches the human how to hold a leash, how to play the stick game, and how to follow commands.  Yes, he has to clean up after the human, but in the end the two of them become the best of friends.

A clever twist on people getting a dog, in this book it is the dog that gets the person.  Stein plays up the humor with his short text that is done entirely from the point of view of this very independent canine.  The book is a quick read with a zippy pace that adds to the pleasure.  Stein’s illustrations are bright and loose.  The watercolor gives a flowing feel to the images and offer gorgeous colors on the page as they mix.

One dynamite dog book, this one will get kids giggling but ends with the honest truth of finding a new best friend.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

gaston

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson

Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La.  They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else.  He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully.  When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle.  There had clearly been a mix up!  So Gaston switches places with Antoinette.  Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families.  What is a dog to do?

Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family.  It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story.  Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you.  Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude.  Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog. 

Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images.  The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group.  All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular. 

A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

tuesday tucks me in

Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Solider and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalván

A child-friendly version of this author’s adult book about his service dog, this picture book version is told from the dog’s point of view.  Focusing on a single day together, the book shows how Tuesday takes care of Luis and helps him cope with his PTSD symptoms as they arise.  Tuesday also helps Luis remember to take his medication.  The two visit a veterans hospital together and then relax a bit at the dog park where Tuesday gets to play just like any other dog.  Throughout their day together in the city, Tuesday is there to reassure Luis when walking, when it gets too crowded, and when he gets overwhelmed.  But this is a special day and Luis has a surprise for Tuesday! 

This book tells such an important story, not only about a service dog but about the recovery of a veteran surviving PTSD.  The text is simple and straight forward, following the pair throughout their day.  What shines from the page are the pictures, the obvious love the two have for one another, the joy they find together, and the support that goes both directions.  Tuesday is wonderful in images, just the kind of gentle dog that everyone wants to love. 

Children who need service dog help will see themselves on the page.  The book expands the idea of what service dogs are for, offering a broader look at the power of these dogs to aid and calm. 

A very strong nonfiction picture book, this would make a good addition to dog story times and units on soldiers.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

norman speak

Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng

A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter.  The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest.  Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside.  Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all.  He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything.  The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly.  Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands!  But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese.  Norman spoke Chinese!  Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.

Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family.  The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant.  It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that.  Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog.  I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.

Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text.  They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid.  Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.

A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

number one sam

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race.  His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best.  He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race!  Sam is devastated.  He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race!  Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead.  But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time.  So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race.  Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!

Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas.  His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children.  At the same time, his books are not predictable.  I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend.  I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth.  That takes real skill.

Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple.  He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own.  This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page.  Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.

Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

most magnificent thing

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A little girl and her best friend, her dog, loved to do all sorts of things together.  Most of all, she loved to build and he loved to unmake things.  Then one day the girl had a great idea she was going to make “the most magnificent thing.”  First she figured out what it would look like, how it would work, and then came the easy part, making it!  She hired her dog as her assistant and they set out to find parts.  She built the thing, but when she and her dog stepped back, it wasn’t magnificent at all!  So she tried again, and again, and again.  Finally, after trying many times, she hurt her finger and she was very angry about all of the time, and the failures, and was ready to give up.  Luckily though, her assistant was there to give her encouragement to give it one more try, after a long walk.

Spires, the author of Binky the Space Cat, has created an ingenious little book.  Through clever storytelling she has written about the process of trial and error, the process of following through on a design and testing it, the creative process itself.  This is a young heroine with so much resilience and determination!  Her failures make her all the more brilliant and successful in the end.  And perhaps my favorite little twist is that people in her neighborhood find their own uses for her failed attempts. 

The art has the same wonderful modern quirkiness as her Binky books.  Though this is not a graphic novel format, she does use panes in her illustrations, making the iterations of her designs all the more fun to explore.  Done with minimal colors except for bursts of red, the illustrations are perfect for a design process.

Get this into the hands of math teachers who will appreciate a very readable book about trial and error.  It is also the perfect book for little girls to be inspired to use tools and create their own designs.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

run dog

Run, Dog! by Cecile Boyer

One red ball and one yellow dog create lots of merry chaos in this picture book.  The dog chases the red ball from one scenario to the next, interacting with the people in the scene until finally one of them grabs the ball and throws it off the page.  The pages are filled with action thanks to a tiered page system where you turn on section of the page at a time and the scene changes along with it.  As the sections are turned, the ball bounces in different ways and the dog reacts making the people in the scene react too!

Near wordless, this book just has single words as the ball is thrown to the next page.  The illustrations are bright and pop off the page.  They are as simple as the words but are also very cleverly done.  The structure of the book creates a very dynamic feel and invites small hands to turn the pages to see what happens next.  There is a sense as one reads the book that the reader is the one setting the pace and creating the changes that unfold.

Very engaging, dynamic and great fun, this book is ideal for toddlers who are willing to be careful with the pages.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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