September 14, 2017


The Adventures of Honey & Leon. By Alan Cumming. Illustrated by Grant Shaffer. Random House. $17.99.

The Great Puppy Invasion. By Alastair Heim. Illustrated by Kim Smith. Clarion. $16.99.

     Dog owners know there is something deeply unsatisfying in being told that their dogs simply sleep all day while the humans are out and about. Surely those wonderful canine companions have something more to do! The technological solution to this burning issue involves buying a “nanny-cam” and actually observing the pups’ behavior. But Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer have a better idea: imagine what the dogs could be doing. Well, actually, no, they couldn’t really do what Cumming and Shaffer show in The Adventures of Honey & Leon, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if dogs shared a fantasy life with humans to such a degree that they could have these particular adventures? Cumming’s story imagines that Honey, a good-sized rescue mutt, and Leon, a diminutive Chihuahua, take their canine duty to protect owners very seriously indeed, and so are very distressed when their human companions have to go on a business trip – which, Cumming writes, happens “an awful lot.” The dogs decide not to stand for this any longer when they discover that yet another trip is being planned: as soon as the humans leave, Cumming writes that Honey and Leon “quickly packed their bags” – with such necessities as a book on acting by “Marilyn Monruff” and packages of “doggie treats,” “emergency treats,” and “even more emergency treats.” Shaffer’s illustration of the pups enthusiastically getting themselves set for travel is a gem – actually, there are gems aplenty in the amusing and delightful pictures here. The dogs and their humans live in New York City, so the pups hail a taxi to take them to the airport – New York apparently being a place where cab drivers have seen it all, so picking up two dogs and their luggage to take to an airport is no big deal. Somehow Honey and Leon figure out which plane their humans have boarded, and they slip aboard themselves (What? No security?) and take seats way at the back – with Shaffer’s sly drawing indicating that perhaps the humans are not quite as unaware of the dogs as the dogs think. What follows is a European adventure in which Honey and Leon, wearing a variety of improbable disguises, repeatedly protect and help out their humans. Then, at a Parisian fashion show, photographers ask a model to turn their way by calling out requests such as, “Over here, honey!” And Honey the dog decides the calls are for her, and she takes her turn on the fashion-show runway (to the bewilderment of Leon), and she immediately becomes “the talk of the town.” And that means that the next day, Honey and Leon have to spend their time “keeping Honey’s star status hidden” from their humans (which requires, among other things, jamming the men’s cell-phone signals). Exhausted, but satisfied that they have done their guard duty while remaining undetected, Honey and Leon head home – and readers find out that, yes, their humans knew about the dogs’ adventurous diligence all along. The Adventures of Honey & Leon is a lovely little fantasy that strains credibility well beyond the breaking point – a state of affairs that matters not a whit. One thing that may matter to some families, though, is that this is also a book about gay men – the dogs’ humans – who repeatedly show their physical closeness by holding hands and putting arms around each other. This is irrelevant to the story but is clearly a desired element of it from the perspective of Cumming and Shaffer. Parents in traditional families need to be prepared to discuss this aspect of the book if their children ask about it.

     The only thing parents may have to explain about Alastair Heim’s The Great Puppy Invasion is how anybody could possibly resist the adorable, enormous-eyed puppies drawn with such overwhelming cuteness by Kim Smith. But the town of Strictville does resist them – well, at first. This is a town whose motto is, “All work and no play makes for a great day!” Everybody is dutiful here, and suitably sour-faced, and no one has seen puppies before. But the people start to see them as the book begins – and soon see lots of them, despite the town’s “long history of ridiculous rules,” which include “fun was forbidden,” “play was prohibited,” and “cuteness was downright criminal.” But not even a police officer ticketing three adorable pups for daring to be cute can stop this invasion! And to make matters worse, one child, little Teddy, keeps reaching out to the puppies, despite his sensible mother’s repeated warnings not to touch them. “This is too much cuteness for just one town!” a resident exclaims at a hastily called emergency meeting. The residents think they know what they have to do to get rid of the puppies: they throw sticks at them (but the puppies delightedly fetch the sticks and bring them back), and they run toward the puppies to chase them away (but the puppies think it is a game and grow “even more delightful”). Soon the townsfolk are on the run, the puppies chasing them and yipping with happiness – until the townspeople run into their houses and slam the doors shut. But Teddy, still outside after his parents have run in, sees “the tiniest puppy of all” and wonders “how something so sweet and so playful and so adorably sad could possibly be scary” – and Smith pulls out all the stops here to show the little puppy taking up a full page, with brightly shining eyes as big as half its head and a head as big as its entire body. Awwwwww! Then the utterly adorable puppy lifts its paw to Teddy, and Teddy takes it, and soon all the other townspeople – who have been watching from inside their homes – “cautiously stepped forward” to shake paws with the other puppies. And a lickety-split (and a few licks) later, Strictville has become Not So Strictville and the people “would never be afraid of cuteness again.” The story and its illustrations are so over-the-top that kids and adults alike will likely find themselves laughing out loud at The Great Puppy Invasion – especially at the very end of the book, when another invasion is about to begin: a tiny, ultra-adorable, huge-eyed kitten winks at readers from the far right-hand side of the very last page. Awwwwww!

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