March 27, 2008


LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail. By Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.

Little Fur, Book III: A Mystery of Wolves. By Isobelle Carmody. Random House. $12.99.

      These are the third appearances of Ike LaRue, the letter-writing dog belonging (more or less) to Mrs. LaRue, and of Little Fur, a small, fuzzy, humanoid creature who is half elf and half troll. Mark Teague’s LaRue books are played for laughs, while Isobelle Carmody’s eco-aware Little Fur saga is more serious and intense. But by this time, both central characters will be thoroughly familiar to readers who have met them before, and both behave pretty much in expected ways as their respective stories continue. Readers who already know the characters will welcome these new adventures – and even ones encountering them for the first time will be in for a treat, for these third outings are at least as appealing as the characters’ earlier ones.

      In LaRue for Mayor, Ike has to write Mrs. LaRue notes because she is hospitalized after an unfortunate accident involving Ike, some other dogs, and an unstable hot-dog cart. Ike himself becomes the chief troublemaker in a series of dog incidents ranging from swiping a baseball during a game to taking sausages from the butcher shop – although, as usual, he doesn’t portray himself as a problem in his letters to Mrs. LaRue. The dogs’ rambunctious behavior soon leads former police chief Hugo Bugwort, who is running for mayor on a law-and-order platform, to promise a “canine crackdown” that would include banning dogs in most public places in Snort City. Naturally, Ike takes anti-Bugwort action in the most direct way: by declaring himself as a mayoral candidate. He promises that he and his dog pals will run an upstanding campaign, “though I can’t speak for my opponent, who appears to be vicious and unstable, if not insane.” Things deteriorate rapidly from there, just as in real-world politics (except that Teague’s illustrations are much funnier than the average campaign poster). But then there’s a wonderful twist that involves rocky road ice cream and Ike helping Bugwort out of a bad spot – with the result that the two decide to team up instead of fighting. This could only happen in a place like Snort City, unfortunately, but what a wonderful contrast to real-world politics in this presidential election season! Ike is as adorably mischievous as ever, and as good a writer, too. And if the plot is a little thin and obvious, and the final outcome clear well before Teague takes readers to it, these are small matters in the grander scheme of a political system that has gone to the dogs…but in a good way.

      The tales of Little Fur also continue along the same road on which Carmody set them in the first place. Little Fur’s world is one in which animals and magical creatures are arrayed against humans, who are despoiling the planet and do not even know that such creatures as Little Fur exist. In the first Little Fur book, The Legend Begins, the wise Sett Owl started Little Fur’s quest by having her go to the human world to find out who was destroying the trees on which so many lives depended. In the second book, A Fox Called Sorrow, Little Fur and other characters, including the fox of the title, journeyed to Underth and found out about the plots of the Troll King, who had his own ways of making use of human evil. Now, in A Mystery of Wolves, Little Fur sets out to find her friend, Ginger the cat – which Sett Owl says can only be done by unraveling the mystery of the title. Little Fur must find out to whom or what the phrase refers, but it seems that she can get help in this quest only from a decidedly dicey source: a mad prophet who says that the Mystery of Wolves refers to a mystic order of the animals living high in the mountains. So Little Fur, having no other hints, heads in that direction. There is danger aplenty in this quest – indeed, there is a caged big cat named Danger who promises, if freed, to “kill and kill and kill until my rage is sated.” Feelings and relationships are complex here, notably in a scene between the wolf Graysong and a strange violet-eyed fjord spirit. But Little Fur finds help where she does not expect it, for by now she has built a reputation: “Is there any creature in the land who has not heard the legend of Little Fur? She who fought the tree burners, who traveled to Underth and thwarted the devilish work of the Troll King?” So asks one character, rhetorically – and Little Fur’s legend continues to grow as her path lengthens in this third adventure; for the mystery she eventually uncovers is deeper than she expected, and is sure to lead onward in the upcoming fourth book of her journey, A Riddle of Green.

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