Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Martha, Gloria and Walter the Dogs: Go to the Dogs with Books

Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh, first in the hysterically funny picture book series about the dog who realizes she can speak after eating a can of alphabet soup. Putting this new found skill to good use, she orders lots of meat by phone from the unsuspecting butcher and generally drives her human family nuts with her non-stop chattering. I don't know if this is what's called a "high concept" book, but the series more than lives up to the goofy premise about why Martha can talk and what she does now that she can.
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann, a Caldecott Award winning book about the policeman who lectures to grade schools and bores his audience to sleep until his dog Gloria comes along and steals the show by mugging upstage from him. The pictures are a riot.
Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle, is the first in a series about a, you guessed it, flatulent dog. While the premise here bothers a lot of people, if your humor runs to the juvenile or slightly "potty", the books are quite funny and Walter is very endearing despite his unfortunately odiferous handicap. Since the Captain Underpants series is such a hit with the grade school set, this type of topic is generally considered roll-on-the-floor funny for most children, so get over your squeamishness and give Walter a chance. He means well. And if you can give Peppy La Pew a break, well really, what's the difference?
Dear Mrs. LaRue, letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. This dog detective also outsmarts his human owners in the noir-ish send-up where the humor comes from the contrast between what personal misfortunes the dog writes to tell his owner and the actual posh circumstances of his time at the dog obedience school where he has been sent for remediation.(This might qualify for a boarding school memoir mentioned in a previous blog.)
Three Stories You Can Read to Your Dog by Sara Swan Miller. Seriously, or rather, not seriously, library programs promote literacy by having children read to visiting dogs, who are evidently not as scary and judgemental as reading teachers and other human tutors or parents.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate diCamillo, made into a very sweet movie of the same name, is a terrific, Newbery Award winning book about a dog who smiles when he belches, and if that's not cute enough, generally wins over a whole town while changing a girl and her father's life for the better. It may sound maudlin in that little recap, but it's a beautiful and beautifully told tale.

Dogs and cats share billing, Joan Lowell Smith's Concerning Animals column in the Sunday Star Ledger, May 14, 2006 reviews The Gift of Nothing by New Jersey's own animal rights cartoonist, Patrick McDonnell; Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda; Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia and Emily MacLachlan; Bark and Ride by Mark J. Asher, among several others.

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