Ben lives with his father and his faithful imaginary dog, Sunshine. This summer, he’s going to spend an entire week with his mother, whom he hasn’t seem since he was three. She lives alone on an island in northern Minnesota. As he and his father journey to meet her, Ben struggles to ignore Sunshine, since his father thinks Ben is too old to have an imaginary friend. After journeying to his mother’s island home by canoe, Ben finds himself struggling with his anxiety and often unable to speak. He has so many questions he wants to ask her and has imagined many conversations together, but nothing comes out. He desperately wants to figure out how to get her to return to living with them. Instead of asking, Ben spends his days on the island, giving his mother time to read. After a disastrous expedition to see some bears and another harrowing solo journey in a canoe, a disaster hits the island and a path to forgiveness is formed.
Bauer is such a remarkable writer. Her books are invitingly brief for young readers and also offer real depth of emotion. In this novel, she shows the struggles of someone with anxiety who is often asking “what if” rather than diving in. She doesn’t allow it to be superficial, instead really exploring what it feels like. At the same time, readers will realize that Ben is incredibly brave and fueled by anger that he won’t acknowledge. His connection to Sunshine is fully realized, from the way they curl up to sleep together to her position in the canoe to their ongoing friendship in a new place.
Ben is a complex character and so are his parents. His father is fastidious, clearly anxious himself in ways that Ben can’t articulate. His mother is a remarkable character in children’s literature. A mother who left her child behind for reasons that are hinted at but not fully revealed until later in the novel. Yet she is given the space to be warm, kind and caring while also being rather distant and reserved. She is many things, and also far more than she realizes.
A book full of dangers, adventure and heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
In this hilarious easy reader, the main character is a dog. But the narrator of the story has other ideas. The first story is simply called “See the Cat” and the dog must insist he certainly is not a cat, definitely not a blue cat in a green dress, and most definitively not riding a unicorn. Still, there’s a nice twist in the end that ends with an embarrassed “red dog.” In the second story, the dog is happily snoozing when the narrator announces that you can “see the snake.” The snake is under the dog, and then gets quite angry. But before the snake can bite the dog, the way the narrator says, the dog comes up with his own solution involving a pencil. In the last story, the reader is told to “see the dog” but then the dog is ordered to spin, jump and even fly or else he will get sat on by a hippo! In the end though, the dog does some bargaining and can go back to napping with no snakes or hippos in sight.
LaRochelle’s easy reader is very funny, just the right sort of humor for young children. The pacing is great with the page turns adding to the moments of reveal and drama. The text is very simple, with the humor playing up the format of an easy reader and it’s straight-forward language. The result is a book that is silly and a delight, something that could be read again and again by new readers who will giggle every time.
The art suits that of an easy reader too, done in simple lines and nice large formats. The dog’s expressions are classic cartoon and add to the humor of the book. When things like the snake and hippo appear, it increases the merriment.
A great addition to easy readers, this one is a hoot! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Gus is the sort of dog that doesn’t like much. He doesn’t like being petted, going on walks, playing fetch, or making friends. He doesn’t like birthdays either. Then a little dog enters his life. The little dog explains that once he arrived, Gus started liking all sorts of things like baths together and hugs. But the one thing that Gus really loves is sausages. He loves everything about sausages. So does the little dog! But Gus doesn’t like to share. But there just might be one thing that Gus likes more than sausages.
Chatteron’s humor is marvelously deadpan. His timing is impeccable throughout the book, particularly the reveals. At first the book seems to not have a specific narrator but that reveal of the little, perky dog speaking about Gus is a delight. The ending too has a well-timed and touching moment that is simple but perfection.
The text is very simple, so the illustrations carry much of the story. They are particularly important to capture the neutrality of Gus with his natural frown. Big and bold, the illustrations work well for sharing the book aloud.
Hilarious and just as satisfying as a sausage feast. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.
Alice Bonnet loved living with her grandmother in their French town. She loved baking together and also loved making lists on her own. But sometimes Alice was lonely, like when she felt small or didn’t feel brave or when her grandmother was napping. So one morning, she decided to try to find a friend. So she wrote a letter, put it in a bottle and threw it from the bridge. The bottle floated into the ocean, was handled by several different creatures, and eventually found its way to an island where Francois the dog lived with his father. Soon the two were writing back and forth, sending the bottle across the ocean again and again. But when Alice suffered a loss, it was hard for her to write letters or make lists or plan any more. So she stopped writing to Francois for some time. Eventually though, Alice began to plan again, make lists and write letters. And soon a big plan came together!
There is such magic about sending messages in bottles and what an idea that you could throw a message into the water and it would go and back and forth forming a true friendship. That underlying magic is a huge part of the charm of this book, though the characters and the French setting have their own magic about them as well. Alice’s optimism and creativity shine in the story, offering hope even when she is terribly sad.
The art in the book is done in watercolor and pencil. It also incorporates clippings from old paper that fill the pages with old-fashioned objects. Some of the illustrations also appear to be done on postcards, which matches the mailing of messages in the story.
Warm and endearing, this picture book looks at new friendships across wide distances. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Once again join the three friends Ivan, Ruby and Bob from The One and Only Ivan. Bob now lives with humans rather than in the gorilla enclosure in the mall with Ivan. He’s a dog who doesn’t want to be owned, though he does appreciate the soft blanket, regular food and even an occasional cuddle. He resents the clicker used to train him and still refuses to get into any vehicle after being thrown from a moving truck with his littermates as a tiny puppy. As a large hurricane approaches, Bob is visiting the zoo where Ivan and Ruby now live, separated by a wall. The storm hits the zoo directly, generating a tornado that has Bob airborne. As he deals with the aftermath and next wave of the storm, Bob discovers new wells of courage, his continued connection to his lifelong friends, and relocates a family he thought he’d never see again.
Told in Bob’s voice, this book is like snuggling with your favorite dog. The chapters are brief and inviting, sometimes only a few sentences long. They show the mind and life of a dog who may not easily trust people but loves so deeply when he trusts another creature. Applegate clearly adores dogs and really captures the way they might think in this story filled with scents, sounds and Bob’s own unique perspective on life.
While this book does follow the first book about Ivan, it would be possible to also read this one first. I can’t imagine that anyone reading it won’t insist immediately on knowing more about Ruby, Ivan and Bob.
Warm and funny with a remarkable canine hero. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Cat Dog Dog by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill (9781984848994)
Dog lives all alone with his owner. He has his own toys, his own elaborate bed, his own food and his owner all to himself. A different Dog lives with Cat and their owner. The two of them may not always get along, but they are a family. So when the independent first Dog moves in with Cat and Dog, things don’t go smoothly. Cat hisses, dogs growl over food, and no one sleeps well at first. Then an open window accident leads to the three animals spending some healing time together. After that, the three are Cat Dog Dog, all the time. But another surprise in on the way!
This picture book is told entirely in two words: Dog and Cat. It is the illustrations that tell the story of the relationships between all of the characters. The illustrations are filled with small touches like the moving boxes steadily getting more dominant and the various sleeping places that no one is pleased with. They also show the emotional state of each of the pets, from exasperation to surprise to tolerance.
Funny and honest, this picture book looks at blended families in a way that speaks to both pets and people. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Count up to ten with the help of a lot of dogs and one sneaky cat in this picture book. One dog is alone, but soon joins another dog on a trike. They become three dogs on a scooter, four on a bike. Then five dogs on a trolley and six on a train. Seven on a ferry and eight on a plane, then nine dogs in a hot-air balloon. Ten dogs in a UFO? Wait! Is that a cat? Soon the dogs are moving back through the vehicles, decreasing by one each time, until there are two cats on a trike.
Told very simply, this book has a wonderful fast pace that makes it great fun to share aloud. The vehicles are varied and interesting, making each page turn a surprise. The rhymes are gentle and add to the wildness of the book at just the right moments. The art is graphic and strong, the dogs silly and varied with googly eyes. Readers will see the cat right from the start, which creates a tug of anticipation through the entire first part of the book.
A great book that happens to have counting too. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Lydia was with her mother as she died and soon after is moving to rural Connecticut to live with her Aunt Brat, her wife and their elderly landlord. Lydia brings with her a box of the goddesses that she and her mother created together as they faced the good and bad in their life. She keeps them hidden from Aunt Brat and everyone at her new home, looking for a private place to hang them in honor of her mother. On the weekend after Lydia moves in, the family also adopts a big yellow dog. Lydia isn’t a dog person, having never lived with one, particularly one this large and untrained. Still, Lydia pitches in to help, something that she does a lot with a chirpy voice that doesn’t seem to belong to her. It helps her also cover up secrets like the growing hole in her wall, a tag that might help them find the yellow dog’s new owner, and even a secret of Aunt Brat’s about baby goats.
Connor’s books are always surprising in the best way. She takes very interesting characters and throws them together here in a new family with a new dog and plenty to hide. The result is a book that untangles itself slowly, revealing new truths and interesting hiding places along the way. The setting of rural Connecticut plays a large role in the story, inviting readers to explore the hills and valleys filled with farms and fields.
The characters, both human and dog, are exceptionally well drawn. No secondary character is left without a deeper story, and this is done without crowding the main story out. Still, it is Lydia’s story and she is far more than a tragic orphan who has lost her mother. Instead, she is resilient and hard working, willing to always pitch in to help. As she literally grapples with having a new dog in her life, she is also working on new human friends, fitting into a new family, and finding her way forward with new people to love.
Full of dogs, warmth and love, this is another great read from a talented author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
Explore the bond of dogs and their owners in this funny picture book. All of the dogs’ names rhyme with their owners. There is Polly and Molly. Eric belongs to Derek. But Mr. Scruff, well he has no one. He’s in a cage waiting to be adopted. Mick has Rick. There is Lawrence and Florence. When Jim comes to pick a dog, he likes Mr. Scruff and Mr. Scruff likes him too! But Mr. Scruff is big and Jim is small. Mr. Scruff is old and Jim is young. None of that matters though to a boy and his new dog. But wait, who is this entering the dog adoption center? It’s Mr. Gruff! What will happen now?
James keeps this picture book oh so simple. He fills it with a collection of dogs and their owners. And yes, everyone’s names rhyme which makes it a galloping read. There are wonderful moments of hesitation built into the text, where the lack of rhyme gives room to pause and wonder a bit. Masterful and playful. The watercolor illustrations have loose lines and are filled with dogs of all breeds. There is a sense of loneliness in the adoption center, but not neglect at all.
This one rhymes its way into your heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.