Review: I Want a Dog by Jon Agee

I Want a Dog by Jon Agee

I Want a Dog by Jon Agee (9780525555469)

A little girl heads to the Happydale Animal Shelter to get a dog. The man there agrees that a dog makes an excellent pet, but keeps on offering the girl different animals. Perhaps an awesome anteater? A python? A baboon? Maybe a frog that barks and hides bones? Except frogs can’t do that. How about a lizard dressed up as a dog? It turns out that Happydale Animal Shelter doesn’t have a dog, so the man asks the girl why she wants a dog. Based on her list, he offers her a seal. And you know what? It’s just the right pet for her.

Agee has such a great way of incorporating the surreal with the normal in his books. In this one, we have the normal process of adopting a pet entirely sidetracked with wild animals that would make horrible pets. Readers will love seeing each of the interesting animals and not knowing what is coming next. Agee merrily breaks his series of animals with a dead goldfish and then with the final twist of the seal as the right pet. Agee’s art is his signature watercolor with thick black lines and subdued colors.

A great pick for dog storytimes, even if it doesn’t actually have a dog. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.

Review: Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (9781324003601)

Rex is starting sixth grade hungry and with a black eye. At school, he has an English teacher who dislikes him on sight. He isn’t in any classes with his best friends either, since he is in high level ones that they make fun of. He also is on free lunch, which he has to announce to a school worker every day. His home life though is even worse. Living with almost no furniture, no bed, and with a mother who is verbally and physically abusive, Rex struggles to find any moments of safety. His mother’s boyfriend beats her up regularly, something that Rex feels responsible for as well as helpless to stop. Still, this book does have hope that things can improve and change, but there is no magic bullet out of poverty and abuse.

Ogle writes of his own childhood in this very personal book. He doesn’t shrink away from any of the tough subjects, showing the layers of anger and abuse that a family can have, the variety of triggers and the inability to make it stop. He writes of a grandmother who served as a place of hope and refuge, but also was a person who angered his mother. Ogle tells of hunger in a way that only someone who has experienced it can speak of it, hunger for food but also hunger for love and understanding in his family.

There is a rawness to Ogle’s writing, an honesty that shines on the page. His weaving in of hope makes reading this book possible, not leaving the reader to languish in the haunting and horrible world he writes of. That hope is vital for the character of Rex too, it keeps him making new friends, finding a way forward, and being willing to change himself to make his family better.

Profoundly honest and full of heart, this book is one that all teachers and librarians need to read to understand the children they serve. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Norton Young Readers.