June 05, 2008


Dogs: 101 Adorable Breeds. By Rachael Hale. Andrews McMeel. $24.99.

Dig It! Buried Treasure. By S.K. Dunn. Illustrated by Daniel Jankowski. Designed by Bill Henderson. Tangerine Press/Scholastic. $9.99.

      Looks may not be everything, but they are a big part of the reason people will want to own these two books – and that’s fine, since the books’ selling points have more to do with appearance than with information. Photographer Rachael Hale’s Dogs: 101 Adorable Breeds delivers exactly what its title promises: every dog pictured here is adorable, whether it is an enormous Great Dane (shown as a bright-eyed puppy with a stuffed animal in its mouth) or a tiny Chihuahua (Hale shows the long-coated one, not the “hairless” variety that would be, to many people’s eyes, less cute). There are no pit bulls here, but the Bullmastiff is represented – as not one but two puppies, both looking intelligent and one with its head cocked just so. Hale is an excellent dog photographer, capturing the animals’ personalities winningly and occasionally creating laugh-out-loud poses that may make readers want to own dogs they never before heard of: the Leonberger, a German breed created in the 19th century, is represented by two puppies posed as bookends in Hale’s most perfectly charming photo. Hale does a good job with brief histories of each breed – including some mixes, such as the spoodle or cockapoo and the labradoodle. But she is not to be relied upon for recommendations on pets for the family – she describes nearly all the breeds she photographs as fine pets, including some that can be difficult for many people, such as the Chow Chow (“a fashionable pet and guard dog, admired for its loyalty and devotion to its owner”). The point of the book, of course, is to celebrate dogs in their many varieties, not make specific recommendations on good ones for particular families. Some breeds are inherently photogenic – the Pomeranian, peeking out of a pocket, is almost too adorable for words – but even ones not thought of as traditionally attractive have a certain grace and majesty here, such as the wrinkly Chinese Shar-pei. Dogs: 101 Adorable Breeds is a wonderful picture book for dog lovers, and if it inspires families to learn about unfamiliar breeds in addition to well-known ones before making a choice, so much the better. But however great these mostly purebred pups look, it’s worth remembering that you’ll get just as much love – and a great deal more gratitude – by adopting a mixed breed at your local animal shelter.

      The cuteness of S.K. Dunn’s Dig It! is of a different type. This is one of those book-and-box combinations with a 48-page book of information on a particular subject – buried treasure, in this case – attached to a box from which a drawer pulls out to reveal a small treasure chest and a deck of cards that kids can use to play a game called “Fame or Fortune?” A number of these book-and-activity combos have been published in recent years, usually in a fairly large (and sometimes cumbersome) size, with books that include envelopes, flaps and a variety of other clever elements that unfortunately can easily be torn or lost by over-eager children or ones who get tired of the activities after trying them a couple of times. Dig It! is a smaller and cuter package – seven inches high, six-and-a-half wide, and two deep (most of which is the box with pullout drawer). Dunn’s book, nicely illustrated by Daniel Jankowski, is more straightforward than gimmicky, with information on such places as El Dorado and the Spanish Main and such treasure-related people as King Tut and Captain Kidd. There are facts here both well-known (the burying of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius) and less-known (the similar burial of the village of Boscoreale). There is information on treasure-hunting tools, the sorts of people who search today (from nautical archeologists to salvage groups), and much more – not a lot of information on any one subject, but enough to whet an interested child’s appetite for more. Add in the treasure chest for burying your own small valuables and the card game for two kids to play together, and you have a package that not only looks cute but also provides some interesting information on treasure, the people who buried or lost it, and the people who look for it nowadays.

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