July 10, 2008

(++++) DOG TALES

Dogfessions. Compiled by Nikki Moustaki. HarperCollins. $19.99.

A Home for Dixie: The True Story of a Rescued Puppy. By Emma Jackson. Photographs by Bob Carey. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Angus and Sadie. By Cynthia Voigt. Illustrations by Tom Leigh. HarperTrophy. $5.99.

My Dog May Be a Genius. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by James Stevenson. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $18.99.

      Here are some cases where the tale wags the dog – sorry about the bad pun, but it seems to go well with Dogfessions, Nikki Moustaki’s compilation of thoughts and comments from her Web site of the same name, where visitors can post anonymous “postcards” giving their thoughts (or their dogs’). The book’s subtitle is misleading: it says “Secret Confessions from Dogs,” but this book is just as much about secret confessions from dog owners…or, perhaps more accurately, dogs’ human companions. “I want her with me all the time” appears with a photo of the poster’s arm, tattooed with that sentiment and her dog’s face. Then there’s this: “My voice gets two octaves higher whenever I see this face,” with a picture of this person’s limpid-eyed dog looking right at the camera. Of course, there are plenty of postings “by” dogs as well: “I tried to eat a sheep at school today. I got in trouble. I’m only supposed to chase them, not eat them.” Or, with a photo of a dog apparently standing on back paws, with front paws draped over a counter or windowsill, tongue hanging out and what looks like a huge smile: “Eight hours waiting by the door is worth it because this is how happy I get when you come home.” Or, simply: “Maintain eye contact. She’ll never know what you’ve been up to.” Dog lovers will howl (sorry about that, again) as they recognize things here that they, or their own dogs, must be thinking in everyday real life.

      A Home for Dixie
is a real-life story that is as heartwarming as any fictional dog tale. Written by 15-year-old Emma Jackson, it is simply about how she came to adopt an abandoned puppy – but with her fresh, forthright voice and the wonderful photos of her and her dog by Bob Carey, the book is not so much sentimental as it is life-affirming…and a celebration of the special bond that humans and dogs have forged with each other through thousands of years. The story is simple and quite common: a dog rescuer (Mary Cody, whose Aunt Mary’s Doghouse helps match dogs and people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania), saves three sick puppies and nurses them back to health. Meanwhile, Emma is trying to persuade her parents to let her have a dog. They finally agree. Emma and her puppy meet at Aunt Mary’s, immediately fall for each other, and the rest of the story is about how they both adapt: “From now on, they would take care of each other.” The photos of Emma, Dixie and Mary keep the book grounded in reality, and the end-of-book discussion of Aunt Mary’s Doghouse and of all the animals in shelters that need homes should be a big help to families considering finding a canine companion of their own. Because it is intended for ages 4-8, A Home for Dixie does not discuss adoption costs, spaying or neutering, and other elements of pet ownership – but it can certainly open the door to a talk about the responsibilities as well as the joys of having a dog. And it is nice to know that a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sale will go to Aunt Mary’s Doghouse.

      Angus and Sadie
is a very different sort of dog story – fictional, and featuring the title dog characters communicating in words with each other and with other animals, but nevertheless illuminating some important aspects of the canine personality and the human-dog relationship. Originally published in 2005 and now available in paperback, Angus and Sadie is the story of brother-and-sister farm dogs: Angus, larger and braver and cleverer, and Sadie, more timid and slower to learn how to help their human family. The dogs are more personalized than the humans with whom they live, who are simply called Mister and Missus. Angus and Sadie learn how to help around the farm, especially with herding the sheep – they are border collies. They deal with barn cats and wilder animals, such as a skunk with which Sadie has an unfortunate run-in. And they are shown to have very different personalities, with Angus’ obvious strength, obedience and eagerness to learn turning out to have some disadvantages when compared with Sadie’s different learning style and willingness to take chances in her own way. The tale ends up being about brothers and sisters in general, but told through the medium of a dog story – and at the same time, it nicely illuminates the qualities of an efficient working dog and the expectations that humans bring to this type of interspecies relationship.

      My Dog May Be a Genius
is barely about dogs at all – the book’s title is the title of the first poem in this Jack Prelutsky collection, but the rest of the poetry takes on all sorts of other subjects. The dog poem is about a pup who knows many of the words that his boy speaks, such as “walk” and “food,” and now may, just may, be learning to spell them as well. Then there are poems about other real animals (“Two Penguins Once Collided”) and unreal ones (“The Zeenaleens”). There’s one about crossing a lion with a mouse, producing babies that “often roar, demanding cheese.” And one about shopping for a dinosaur – except it turns out that they are long gone, so how about a unicorn instead? Some of these poems go beyond Prelutsky’s usual silliness, such as “Sandwich Stan,” which includes (sandwiched within the rhymes) a list of some of the sandwiches that Stan makes: “badger belly boiled in bile,” “turtle tendon tuna tails,” “ants and cantaloupe with noodles,” and many more. James Stevenson’s delightful illustrations make this Prelutsky compendium especially enjoyable. For example, in the one for “The Blue-Bean-Bonking Bupple,” the expression on the face of the boy being bonked is just as much fun as the rhymes: “In a weird machine, unheard, unseen,/ lives the blue-bean-bonking Bupple,/ whose tentacles are long and lean,/ and sinuous and supple.” Stevenson also does a fine job illustrating poems whose shapes are part of the fun, such as “I’m Trapped in an Egg” with the words inside (of course) an egg, and “I Drank a Magic Potion” with its big-and-little theme. Not many dogs here, but plenty of fun.

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