See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat by David LaRochelle

Cover image for See the Dog.

See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536216295)

When the dog gets sick, cat takes his place in this sequel to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog. In the first story, Cat has to run, bark and then dig a hole. But the cat has their own way of digging that surprises the bossy book. In the second story, the cat has to swim across the lake and fetch the stick. But cats don’t like water nearly as much as dogs do! Again, the cat makes the most of it by the end of the tale. The third story has the cat protecting a sheep from the approaching wolf. All seems lost until cat is saved and can stop being the dog in the story.

The Geisel Award winning, See the Cat was a great book for beginning readers and the second in the series keeps the same wit and silliness. The bossy tone of the book is just right, following so many beginning reader tropes with repeating words, direct orders, and all with very funny results. This is another book that will have readers laughing rather than frustrated as they start to read.

I’m fascinated that these books are done by two people, since the illustrations and the text seem to beautifully interwoven into one solid story full of humorous moments. the illustrations play with beginning reader simplicity but add in a touch of frenzy and zany energy that makes it all the better.

A grand sequel sure to charm beginning readers and the adults who listen to them read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks

Cover image for A Soft Place to Land.

A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks (9780062875877)

Joy has had to move with her family from their beloved house into an apartment, since her father lost his job. Other things have changed too, like sharing a room with her little sister and being able to hear her parents argue clearly through the thin walls. Joy also had to give up her piano lessons, since they can’t afford them any more. So her plans to be a composer for movies have been put on hold. She also has to start a new school, but luckily she meets a very friendly new neighbor who goes to her school too. Nora also shares the secret Hideout that all of the kids in the building use to escape their small apartments. It’s top secret and no adults even know the room exists. Joy and Nora also start their own dog walking business for residents of the apartment. But when disaster strikes, Joy may lose it all: the business, the hide out and all of her friends.

The author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington returns with her second book. This novel explores socioeconomic layers from the point of view of a girl caught in the midst of difficult life changes that she has no control over. Written with a deep empathy for young people and the difficulties they face, the book also mixes in humor and a strong sense of larger community that keeps it from being overly dark. The book offers a couple of moments of mystery, where Joy must figure out what happened to one of the dogs and another where she has been exchanging messages with someone who may be in trouble.

Throughout it is clear that even though some things may be outside of Joy’s control, she has agency to make some changes and choices. Joy is a great character, one who could have become sullen and shut down in the face of the situation, but instead makes new friends and finds a way forward. She is a character full of caring for others, always helping out her sister, trying to fix friendships, and in the end solving the mysteries and finding a solution for a hideout that works for the adults too.

Friendship, families and finding your way are central in this middle grade novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole

Cover image for We Want a Dog.

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole (9781728238173)

This rollicking picture book gallops away asking questions about what sort of dog you want. Do you want one with hair or one that’s bare? One that races or one that digs in muddy places? One that barks or one that farts? One that pulls or one that drools? The book continues to show all sorts of doggy personalities on its pages with dogs that roll in stinky stuff, dogs with fleas, dogs that sniff, dogs that howl and many, many more. Readers exploring adopting a dog will find themselves inspired with all the different characters here, though for some the twist ending may be exactly what they were thinking!

Cole’s book takes rhyming and literally runs with it. The rhymes are bouncy and fun, playing along in triples throughout the book. They are never forced, instead feeling silly and light as the book progresses. The various sorts of pooches are enjoyed here, complete with naughty behaviors that will have kids giggling.

The art in the book is done in reds, blacks, whites and grays. It is bold and graphic, showing so many types of dogs and their personalities. From sitting in a checkered chair to barking out windows to pulling on leashes, each element is cleverly drawn.

A dog-gone good time. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Cover image for Rez Dogs.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (9780593326213)

When Malian is at her grandparents visiting, Covid-19 brings everyone into lockdown. Malian lives in Boston with her parents usually and now she is on an extended visit on the Wabanaki reservation where her grandparents live. She works to keep her grandparents safe from the virus, keeping social services and the mailmen at the end of the driveway. She is helped by Malsum, a wolf-like dog who simply showed up one day and stayed. Dogs on the reservation are different than in the city. Malsum is his own dog, responsible for himself, though he does enjoy the attention and food that Malian and her grandparents give him. Malian’s grandmother’s fry bread is a special treat for everyone. This is a lovely look at how one family got through Covid by supporting each other.

Told in verse, this middle-grade novel shares oral storytelling traditions and celebrates the love of grandchild and grandparents. Bruchac is a celebrated Abenaki children’s author with hundreds of publications in his body of work. There is a wonderful sense of place throughout this book, showing the way of life on the reservation. The pace of life is slower too, partially due to the pandemic but also by choice.

Malian is a great guide to life on the Wabanaki reservation, since she lives a different lifestyle when she is in the city. She clearly shows the distinctions between the two ways of life, each with their own benefits and challenges. Malsum, the dog, is a character himself, guiding the humans around him through his body language, approval and defense.

A timely novel that looks at the pandemic and its impact on indigenous families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Yes & No by Elisha Cooper

Cover image for Yes & No.

Yes & No by Elisha Cooper (9781250257338)

A dog and a cat live together. In the morning, the dog is ready for anything while the cat wakes up more slowly and with a touch of grumpiness. The dog wants breakfast, while the cat isn’t hungry. The dog helps clean up, and the cat walks off. The dog wants to play while the cat avoids him. Their owner sends them outside to play together. The dog is full of delight and eagerness, exploring the backyard with enthusiasm while the cat naps on a tree branch. Finally sent off even further, they head out together and find a common spot to sit and look at the world while sniffing the breeze. Called to come back in, now it’s the dog who doesn’t want to go back inside, doesn’t want to have a bath, or head to bed. It’s the cat who brings the blanket back and gets the dog ready to sleep. But the cat may have other ideas too.

Told in the voices of the cat, dog and their owner, this picture book is marvelously understated. The voices of each character are distinct from one another with the imperious cat, the eager dog, and the owner who’d just like a little peace. The text reads aloud beautifully, since it is solely the voices of the characters with no narration at all.

The art is classic Cooper, telling a story in deft and clever lines. The cat is an elegant black figure against the white background while the dog almost bursts from the page, often looking right at the reader and looking for fun.

A grand picture book of opposites who are the best of friends. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Cover image for Sunshine.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer (9781536214116)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.

See the Cat by David LaRochelle

See the Cat cover image

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536204278)

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.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton (9780593097366)

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.

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon (9780525554004)

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.