June 24, 2010


Treasury of the Lost Litter Box: A “Get Fuzzy” Treasury. By Darby Conley. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

Please Take Me for a Walk. By Susan Gal. Knopf. $15.99.

Animal Rescue Team #1: Gator on the Loose! By Sue Stauffacher. Knopf. $12.99.

Nathan Fludd, Beastologist: Book TwoThe Basilisk’s Lair. By R.L. LaFevers. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Houghton Mifflin. $15.

Wolf Pie. By Brenda Seabrooke. Illustrated by Liz Callen. Clarion. $16.

     Whether you are an adult (okay, alleged adult) or a child, you will find something appealing in at least one of these animal-themed books – and possibly in all of them. Darby Conley’s latest oversize Get Fuzzy collection, which contains cartoons previously published in Ignorance, Thy Name Is Bucky and Dumbheart, continues to show Conley’s improvement in plotting his comic strip and keeping its focus on the interesting characters: Bucky, the self-important and vocabulary-challenged cat, and Satchel, the long-suffering part-Canadian mixed-breed dog. The human in the strip, Rob Wilco, continues to be its weak point: without any social life, with preoccupations involving video games and rugby, and with an appearance that ranges from ridiculous to genuinely ugly, he is not much of a character. (Typical line: “The correct term would be that my and my shirt’s nerdnesses stack.”) But Rob doesn’t have to be worth much when Bucky and Satchel are center stage, as they usually are. “Dogs are like the Yangtze River – slow and full of sewage,” opines Bucky at one point, and at another he decides to be a model for a hairball remedy: “Before long, this face will be synonymous with feline regurgitation.” Satchel, whether trying to placate Bucky or just standing by with a bemused expression, is a perfect foil for the feline. And the appearance of various other oddballs doesn’t hurt. Mac Manc McManx, a semi-regular Cockney-talking cousin, is a particular delight: “The middle bit was a tad naff. Stonking bumps and that. I thought the bloke next to me was going to chunder, but the prat was just winding me up.” Then there are Foodar, the cat with food radar; Chubby Huggs, the cat who hugs everyone; Stank Lloyd Wrong, an aggressive feline architect; and Shakespug, a dog who quotes Shakespeare (and occasionally Ben Jonson). The mixing up of all these characters makes for a great deal of silliness, day in and day out – and if you do not already have the earlier collections that are re-collected in this “Treasury,” you won’t want to miss this heaping helping of fuzziness. Or Get Fuzzy-ness. Whatever.

     For a slightly more realistic unrealistic look at dogs – and a treat for young readers – there is Please Take Me for a Walk, which does have a dog that talks but at least has him talking about everyday dog things. The book’s title is its theme: this adorable big-eyed pup wants to go outside and see all his friends: florist, baker, bookseller, “and my special friend, the butcher,” who gives him a big bone that brings a smile to the dog’s face. This dog wants – well, what it is easy to imagine all dogs desire: “I want to feel the wind lift my ears and the sun warm my belly.” Highly appealing illustrations complement the simple, easy-to-follow text in a short book that is long on fun for ages 3-6.

     For older readers, roughly ages 8-10, the new Animal Rescue Team series offers something more exotic in its first volume, Gator on the Loose! The title says it all – or most of it. It certainly gives the basic plot, but part of the fun here is not only what happens but also to whom it happens. The Carter family, in and of itself, is an enjoyable group, including 10-year-old Keisha; little brothers Razi and Paulo; parents; and Grandma Alice. This motley crew has to rescue a small alligator from a city pool – which turns out to be the easy part of their adventure, since they then have to figure out where to put the gator. The answer, temporarily, is: in their own bathtub. But when the alligator gets loose, the need for a more permanent home becomes pressing, even if the family members’ ideas about what to do are a little skewed: “‘I think we should mail our little bugger to Alabama’ [said Grandma]. ‘You can’t mail an alligator!’ Razi said. ‘The stamps won’t stick.’” So that’s out. But a solution is indeed found – even though the story takes place in Michigan, which is scarcely prime alligator territory. Pumpkin-Petunia (yes, that is the alligator’s name) is safely placed in an appropriate sanctuary that just happens to be opening up in a convenient spot, to Keisha’s special pleasure: “She didn’t care what anybody said about alligators. She thought they were adorable.” This series about CUR (Carters’ Urban Rescue) has much that is adorable in it, too. And the back-of-book “fact file” is a nice supplement to the story.

     There is a supplement at the back of the second Nathan Fludd, Beastologist book as well – including information on magnetic north, telegrams, and the right sort of bag in which to trap a basilisk. And while there are no alligators here, there are some Nile crocodiles that must be fended off without hurting them. R.L. LaFevers’ series, which has some of the flavor of young (very young) Indiana Jones, is set in the 1920s and features young Nate, his Aunt Phil, and Greasle – a gremlin that Nate found and adopted in the first book, The Flight of the Phoenix. The second series entry is not entirely self-contained – there are references, especially at the end, that will make sense only to readers of both books. But the basic story, about the hunt for an escaped basilisk and the attempt to capture it alive even though its gaze “can strike a man or beast dead at twenty paces,” is clear enough. Kelly Murphy’s illustrations help propel the well-paced narrative of a search through the Sudan (with the assistance of a riverboat captain named Jean-Claude LaFou, whose boat Queenie is nothing like Humphrey Bogart’s African Queen, even if that boat from the famous 1951 film seems to be its derivation). As in the first volume of the series, Nate is a beastologist-in-training – who turns out to have more natural talent for hunting down and handling dangerous mythical creatures than anyone, including Aunt Phil, expects. Nate even inadvertently solves the deadly-gaze problem of the basilisk, making it safer for members of the helpful Dhughani tribe to continue caring for the creature after it is safely back in its cave. Unfortunately, there is a gaping hole in the story, because there is a gaping hole in the cave – though which the basilisk escaped in the first place – and LaFevers never says anything about the hole being repaired. But logic is not the driving force in this light adventure series.

     Nor is there much logic in Wolf Pie, but the book is so much fun that young readers won’t care. Yes, this is the familiar story of the wolf and the three little pigs, except that it is not that story at all. Call it a kissin’ cousin. In Brenda Seabrooke’s tale, the Pygg brothers are named James, Marvin and Lester, and they all live in a strong brick house, and the wolf – named Wilfong – is stuck outside all winter, because he certainly can’t blow the house down. And while out there, he starts to discover that he sort of likes the pigs, and they (reluctantly) sort of like him. The expressions on the characters’ faces are among the pleasures of Liz Callen’s appropriately quirky illustrations, which show the wolf deciding that “pig food tasted much better than pigs” as he eats pizza, popcorn and cake that the pigs leave on the windowsill for him. The wolf freezes solid in the winter, but the pigs feel sorry for him and help defrost him in the spring – by which time he wants to live with them: “I like your games and riddles and stories. I don’t want to eat pigs anymore. Your food is better.” Eventually the wolf and the pigs come up with a tentative way to see whether Wilfong has truly reformed – and the pigs help when Wilfong gets sick, and he helps when they get swept out to sea in a riptide. But even though the pigs become friendly with this wolf, there are other wolves around, and when they show up – well, that is where the idea of “wolf pie” comes in. This is a wonderful turn-the-fairy-tale-on-its-head book whose moral, if it had one, would be something like, “Wolves will be wolves, but some wolves really can turn friendly.” Not a bad message – and a very entertainingly delivered one.

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