December 04, 2014
(++++) OF DOGS AND FROGS
Stick Dog. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.
Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.
Stick Dog Chases a Pizza. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.
The first two Stick Dog books by Tom Watson proudly proclaim themselves “a really GOOD story with kind of BAD drawings” and “another really GOOD story with kind of BAD drawings,” so Watson presumably achieved an epiphany of some sort with the third book, Stick Dog Chases a Pizza, since there is nothing apologetic on the cover. There is simply Stick Dog chasing a pizza as his four stick-dog friends look on. Of course, the book starts, like Stick Dog and Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog, with Watson making it clear that he does not draw well, knows he does not draw well, does not wish to be criticized for not drawing well, and intends to tell a good story to anyone who will not complain that he does not draw well. Seems reasonable. All the books focus on Stick Dog, Karen (“a dachshund who loves potato chips”), Mutt (“a mutt”), Poo-Poo (“a poodle and not named after, you know, going to the bathroom”), and Stripes (“a Dalmatian who…lost her job after the Nacho Cheese Grande incident”). The three books all include adventures of a really mild but always amusing sort, all of which help flesh out the dogs’ personalities and are just generally a lot of fun. Watson’s narrative style helps a lot. In the first book, at one point, squirrel-hating Poo-Poo is disappointed that the other dogs do not have a giant rubber band that he could string between two trees to make a slingshot so “I could shoot my way up there to get that whisker-twitching menace to society.” In the second book, there is a hilarious picture of Stick Dog with a chainsaw, and there is a scene in which the dogs try to understand why a man is “mad at the carpet or something” and is “pounding it with his whole body” (a perfectly logical misinterpretation of exercise, human style). In the newest book, Stick Dog Chases a Pizza, there is a chapter called “The Ultra-Missimo-Pizza-Snatch-O-Meter,” and there is dissension in the ranks when Poo-Poo, Mutt and Karen all want to rescue a kitty but “Stripes definitely did not,” until Stripes decides the kitten is “the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen” and starts making funny faces at it. The rescue attempt – the kitten is inside a truck – leads to Karen’s explanation that “pyramids were around during caveman times. The cavemen would climb to the top of the pyramids to get away from the dinosaurs and Viking ships.” And yes, there is an illustration, and yes, it is kind of a bad drawing, and no, that does not matter at all. And yes, pizza does figure in the story, and yes, all the dogs eventually get some – get covered in pizza, in fact – and all the dogs “had splotches of pizza stains somewhere on them, but none of them cared.” All three Stick Dog adventures are pleasant, unassuming (as is Stick Dog himself), amusing, and, well, sticky – not only in terms of how the dogs are drawn but also in terms of the food-related messes they get into whenever possible. Individually or as a set of three, the Stick Dog books, intended for ages 8-12, are playful enough to be fun for anyone looking for lighthearted, easy-to-read fun in which the “kind of bad drawings” are a big part of the kind of charming whole.
Jared Lee’s drawings for the “Old Lady” series by Lucille Colandro are more professionally rendered but scarcely more outrageous than Watson’s in the Stick Dog books. Colandro’s old lady – derived from the old song about the old lady who swallowed a fly (“perhaps she’ll die”) – seems to have an endless capacity for swallowing just about anything and everything, always without chewing and without causing the swallowed things much discomfort, and certainly without dying. She is at it again in There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog! This time she starts with a frog (“she was in a fog”), then swallows dirt “to hide the frog,” then seeds, then rain, then sunlight, then gloves, and then a rake – finally spitting out a colorful garden. The sequence is less interesting and less absurd than in some of the other Colandro books – it is fairly easy to see where things are going – and the fact that everything swallowed after the frog is inanimate reduces the silliness factor. The book therefore gets a (+++) rating – it will be enjoyable enough for kids who like others in the series, and the final “Happy Spring” wish will be welcome to families dealing with a harsh winter, but the accumulation of absurd objects swallowed and eventually combining into something wonderful does not quite work here. The illustrations are actually more fun than the narrative, with the old lady’s dog, watching with a smile or bemusement as various items get swallowed, being as much a star of the story as is the old lady herself. Hopefully the next book in the series – there are sure to be more – will meld words and pictures to somewhat better overall effect.