May 19, 2016
(++++) DOGGIE DOINGS
Pretty Minnie in Hollywood. By Danielle Steel. Illustrated by Kristi Valiant. Doubleday. $17.99.
Douglas, You Need Glasses! By Ged Adamson. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.
Parents who just cannot wait to get their children intrigued by the high life, high times and high-rolling style of Danielle Steel’s protagonists can get kids ages 3-7 – that is, as young as age three – involved in the adventures of Pretty Minnie. Minnie, however, is big only in personality: she is a teacup-size long-haired white Chihuahua, and her larger-than-life adventures (the first in Paris and the new, second one in Hollywood) come with none of the angst and high drama to be found in Steel’s novels for adults. Minnie is just too adorable to be real, and her behavior is too perfect to be believed, and after all, where but in a children’s book can such perfection be found? Minnie, whose adorableness is fully realized in Kristi Valiant’s illustrations, belongs to Françoise, whose mother one day announces that the family needs to go to Hollywood to bring an actress a dress that Françoise’s mother has designed. Of course Minnie will be going, too, and Valiant’s picture of Françoise and Minnie choosing their outfits for the trip will immediately delight all fans of Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy. This being a fantasy, Minnie gets to ride on Françoise’s lap or in the empty seat next to her throughout the transatlantic and transcontinental flight, and Valiant draws Minnie’s ears so large and so pointed that the dog herself seems about to take off. The wonderful airplane trip leads to a series of wonderful adventures in Hollywood – until the one negative thing in the book occurs when Minnie meets the dog star Fifi, who takes an instant dislike to the little Chihuahua. But in this adorable bit of make-believe, Fifi’s growling at Minnie leads to Fifi being sent home and, in true 42nd Street fashion, being replaced by Minnie – who promptly becomes the star of the movie, giving Valiant a chance to draw her in a Sherlock Holmes outfit, a Cinderella lost-slipper scene, and more. Being a big success does not go to Minnie’s head at all, though: as happy as she is to celebrate her success with some Pupcake Cupcakes (a great product name!), she and Françoise are even happier when they fly home to Paris and resume their far-from-ordinary everyday life. A kind of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Pooches, Steel’s book is so lighthearted and so out-and-out cute that even parents who would not think of reading one of Steel’s novels for adults can have a great time reading Pretty Minnie in Hollywood with their children.
A book about a much more ordinary-looking dog – and a work with a more serious purpose – Ged Adamson’s Douglas, You Need Glasses! manages to be quite cute in its own way. To start with, the title is printed in blurry type. And Douglas, clearly a non-pedigreed pooch and adorable in his own right, discovers the need for glasses through a series of very funny misadventures both on his own and with his owner, Nancy. He chases leaves, thinking they are squirrels, and manages to walk through fresh cement because he cannot see the warning sign. “Sometimes he even went home to the wrong house,” Adamson explains, showing Douglas happily eating from a dog bowl labeled “Barney.” When Douglas fetches a beehive instead of a ball, Nancy decides enough is enough, and she takes him to an optician, where Douglas manages to mis-identify every object on the dog-friendly eye chart. Eyeglasses are clearly called for, and Douglas gets to try on a whole bunch of them (even Pretty Minnie might enjoy the trying-on poses in this part of the story). Eventually Douglas gets just the right pair of glasses, and everything ends happily – and that is that. The ending, a bit of a letdown in story terms, makes it clear that Adamson really sees the book as a teaching tool, to be used to show kids ages 3-7 that it is fine to wear eyeglasses so you can see better. In fact, the book’s final two pages show pictures of “real kids who wear glasses” and invite readers who wear them to post their own photos online. Beneath the amusement of the book – and a lot of it is very amusing indeed – there is the serious message that if you need glasses, you should get them. It is never quite clear why Douglas has not gotten glasses already – he “had always been a very nearsighted dog,” Adamson writes – but whatever the reason, by the end of the book he is wearing them happily and seeing everything much more clearly, which is, clearly, the way things should turn out.