January 19, 2023


Little Pups in Big Trucks. By Bob Shea. Illustrations by Brian Won. Dial. $7.99.

This Pup Is Stuck! By Bob Shea. Illustrations by Brian Won. Dial. $7.99.

The Great Truck Switcheroo. By Bob Shea. Illustrations by Brian Won. Dial. $8.99.

     Some things just seem to go together naturally: peanut butter and jelly, Santa Claus and Christmas, shoes and socks, Batman and Robin…but adorable puppies and construction equipment? Well, apparently somebody has to come up with all-new pairings, and that somebody is Bob Shea – who, abetted by illustrator Brian Won, is spinning out a board-book series called “Adurable.” That’s as in “adorable” (the puppies) and “durable” (the construction equipment).

     All right, the whole thing seems a little forced and a lot silly – but for pre-readers and the youngest readers, it is a lot of fun. The idea is that “puppy school” consists entirely of classes in driving and operating construction equipment: Dig Doug gets a “big green digger,” Cheddar gets a “big orange bulldozer,” and Puddles receives a “big blue dump truck.” Teacher Miss Polly, in her turn, “drives a big red jeep” and more-or-less supervises the activities of the “adurable” puppies with admonitions such as, “Be careful not to crash or tip over.” The real fun in Little Pups in Big Trucks comes when the puppies show they may know how to drive big trucks, but are not entirely sure how to use big trucks. Rocks fall out of Puddles’ dump truck and block Miss Polly’s jeep, and the dogs are determined to get her out – and so, “‘Bark! Bark!’ barks Cheddar. ‘Leave Miss Polly alone, you big mean rocks.’” Well, that is puppy-ish enough, but of course it accomplishes nothing. So Dig Doug has the pups close their eyes – and since they cannot see the rocks, the rocks must be gone. Um, no. “The big rocks do not go away just because you cannot see them,” explains Miss Polly. So the pups find a huge rock and bring it near the jeep because, by comparison, “YOUR rocks are not as big.” Well, um, no again. Readers will easily see the flaws in all this well-meaning non-logic, and that is exactly the point: young kids will figure out what the pups should do long before the pups themselves get the right idea. Eventually, of course, the pups realize their big trucks can move all the rocks away from the jeep, freeing Miss Polly and earning “puppy snacks and naps” as a reward. They may be construction-equipment drivers, but these pups are still just little kids, or little puppies, at heart.

     And then it is time for an actual construction project, which is the point of This Pup Is Stuck! Miss Polly announces that the class assignment is to “make a swimming spot,” and that idea suits the pups just fine, since Cheddar’s bulldozer can flatten the area, Puddles’ dump truck can take away piles of dirt and rock, and Dig Doug’s green digger can dig a big hole “but not too big a hole,” as Miss Polly explains. The “adurable” pups jump into their big trucks and get right to work, with Dig Doug especially enthusiastic about digging “a BIG hole” but not remembering just what else Miss Polly said. He soon has a hole that “is very wide and deep,” and he just keeps going even though Miss Polly warns that he “will not be able to drive back out.” He digs down below a rabbit warren and some buried dinosaur fossils and even a treasure chest – these illustrations are especially amusing. And then Dig Doug realizes the hole is too big and he cannot get out. What to do? Cheddar helpfully suggests running in circles and barking: “Give us back our friend, you big mean hole.” Hmm…that doesn’t work. Puddles says to imagine that Dig Doug’s digger is a helicopter so it can fly out of the hole, but…well, nope. But after a while, the pups figure things out: Puddles brings dirt and rocks in his dump truck to dump by the hole, Cheddar pushes the rocks and dirt into the hole with her bulldozer, and “now the big hole has a big hill” that Dig Doug can use to get his digger out. Dig Doug tells Miss Polly he is a bad puppy for making such a deep hole, but she assures him that he is good – at digging. But other things matter, too, she explains, such as listening. Lesson learned, it is time for a swim, and the “adurable” pups “bark, splash, and play all afternoon.”

     Where can this delightful board-book series go next? The answer lies in The Great Truck Switcheroo. Having firmly established which pup goes with which truck, Shea here mixes things up just to add some puppy-style confusion and to emphasize the importance of teamwork and cooperation. This time the class is going to have snickerdoodles, which Miss Polly cannot even start baking because the pups practically fall over each other asking questions and making comments and generally getting in the way. So Miss Polly announces that she has “important work for you puppies” – specifically, “busy work” (a concept that parents may need to explain to young “adurable” fans). The pups’ assignment is to move a pile of dirt from one side of the road to the other side. But to make things more interesting, Miss Polly says “all little pups must switch big trucks. It will help you help one another.” Oh no! This is an unimaginable intrusion into “adurable” territory: the puppies refuse to switch and try to think of ways around Miss Polly’s instructions. But she says firmly, “No switcheroo. No snickerdoodles.” So the “adurable” but reluctant pups do their best – that is, they do their best to make their switched trucks behave like the ones they know (trying to turn a dump truck into a digging machine, for instance). This goes about as well as can be expected, which is to say not well at all. “‘Let’s cry and be sad,’ barks Puddles,” and that seems to be as good an idea as any – until the pups realize they can teach each other how to use each other’s trucks. And so they do just that, and they get the dirt pile moved, and they decide that “doing something different was scary, but also a little bit fun!” And after all the “adurable” pups get snickerdoodles, everyone takes a ride in Miss Polly’s jeep, and everyone reading these books (or hearing them read out loud) will be delightedly looking forward to the next “adurable” adventure.

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