June 01, 2023


Make Way for Fenway 1: Fenway and the Bone Thieves. By Victoria J. Coe. Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Putnam. $6.99.

Make Way for Fenway 2: Fenway and the Frisbee Trick. By Victoria J. Coe. Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Putnam. $6.99.

Make Way for Fenway 3: Fenway and the Loudmouth Bird. By Victoria J. Coe. Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Putnam. $6.99.

     Real-life Jack Russell Terriers are bundles of insatiable energy. Their adorably incessant hyperactivity can make them difficult to train and sometimes inadvertently destructive – and JRTs can be frustrating for owners without the ability to keep up with them and keep them entertained at pretty much all times. Fortunately, although Victoria J. Coe clearly knows a fair amount about JRT behavior, she knows enough to tone it down a bit for her Make Way for Fenway easy-reader chapter books. It doesn’t hurt that Fenway himself, the titular JRT, is the books’ narrator: he gets plenty of enjoyment and engagement with the world around him by telling the stories of his everyday adventures. Fenway lives with adults whom he identifies as Fetch Man and Food Lady – and their daughter, Hattie, whose name Fenway uses because she and he are paired most of the time, not just when it comes to game-playing and eating. Fenway knows just how to manipulate Hattie and the grown-ups: the first book, Fenway and the Bone Thieves, starts with him successfully begging for a store-bought bone toy. But the ways of humans are not always clear to Fenway: after Hattie’s mom agrees to get the bone, Hattie puts it in the shopping cart instead of giving it to Fenway immediately: “This isn’t fair! That bone is so close. I can smell it. I can see it. But I can’t have it. This is the worst day ever!” But never mind: Fenway, who leaps from one thought to the next incessantly, figures he’ll get the bone soon enough, and then “nobody will ever take it away.” In particular, no squirrel will take it away: Fenway has a thing about squirrels, and spends a lot of his outdoor time yelling (barking) at them, chasing them, and complaining about them to anyone who will listen – especially his canine friends, Patches and Goldie, who live next door. To protect his precious bone, Fenway buries it, but then it rains, and everything gets muddy and messy, and after the rain stops, he can’t seem to find it despite “digging in every spot I can think of. Before long, the grass is full of holes. But I still don’t have my bone.” Oh yes – definitely some JRT behavior there! The tremendously messy dog needs a bath desperately, but not by his own standards – he cannot figure out why Hattie insists on catching and washing him. He needs to find his bone – the squirrels must have stolen it! And, he decides, they must have made the yard all “messy and torn up,” with the grass “spotted with patches of mud” (Fenway has little self-awareness – young readers will especially enjoy remembering that Fenway made the mess that he is now blaming on the squirrels). Eventually, Fenway does find his bone, and everything ends happily, but Fenway and the Bone Thieves neatly sets up this pleasant little series by focusing firmly on Fenway’s personality quirks and distinctly JRT-like behavior. The illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff help a lot: they complement the story nicely, and in some cases – for instance, when they are scattered across two pages to show all the holes Fenway is digging while searching for his missing bone – they actually enrich the reading experience and make Coe’s writing more enjoyable.

     The second book, Fenway and the Frisbee Trick, begins with an activity that shows why Fenway calls one of his adult humans Fetch Man: Fenway loves a game in which he has to retrieve a thrown stick. But one day, while playing that game in the Big Park, Fenway sees a huge Rottweiler playing a catch-the-Frisbee game with her person. The dog, Carmen, is having a great time with her human, Felipe, and Fenway decides that he wants to play “Frisbee catch” too. But Fenway soon learns that the game isn’t that simple. Back home, he grabs a plastic lid from the kitchen and tries to get Hattie to throw it for him, but Hattie doesn’t understand what he wants and just puts the lid in the sink to be washed after Fenway has spent time chewing it. However, the family does get Fenway his very own Frisbee soon enough, and then the ever-willing but not-very-self-aware pup discovers that Carmen’s Frisbee-catching skill is not something that comes naturally to just anybody (or anydog). With occasional intervals for squirrel-chasing, Fenway manages to get a Frisbee-focused game going, but unfortunately it is in the house, and things do not go well – not that any of it is Fenway’s fault. He just happens to notice that, after he tries to catch the Frisbee, “the lower part of the couch is streaked with wetness. The tall lamp is lying sideways across one of the cushions. The lampshade has a tear in it.” Hattie apologizes sincerely to her mother, which to Fenway means that Hattie “must feel just as bad as I do that I didn’t catch the Frisbee.” Eventually the family goes to the Big Park, where Fenway discovers that catching the Frisbee Carmen-style just isn’t possible for him. In fact, he gets so frustrated that he tears out the middle of the Frisbee – this is the type with a soft, springy center – and ends up wearing the Frisbee around his neck. And that, it turns out, is an entirely new sort of game of fetch, one that everyone admires and enjoys, even Carmen. “There really is no other dog like me,” says a self-satisfied Fenway. How true!

     The third Make Way for Fenway book poses an indoor problem for Fenway instead of an outdoor one. Fenway and the Loudmouth Bird takes place in the apartment of Hattie’s Nana – who has acquired a bird that lives in the apartment even though, as Fenway points out, birds “belong outside. With squirrels.” Even stranger, this bird speaks Human! And Nana is determined to have Fenway and the bird, Merlin, become friends – which Fenway knows is out of the question. Things get worse when the humans get upset as Fenway tries to get them to bring in some treats from the car and say his name in an irritated voice: Merlin starts saying “Fenway” in exactly that tone of voice! Well, Fenway and Hattie say goodbye to Hattie’s parents – Hattie is staying at Nana’s with Fenway for a visit – and Fenway does his usual duty of scaring away any squirrels that may be paying attention to his barking. Then it is time to go back into the apartment, where things just keep getting worse as Hattie, fascinated by Merlin, plays with the bird rather than with Fenway, doing a game in which Merlin rings a little bell whose sound hurts Fenway’s ears. Hattie will not stop even when Fenway repeatedly pulls at her. In fact, Hattie insists that Fenway quiet down: she holds him up to Merlin’s cage and says the word “friends.” How ridiculous, thinks Fenway: “If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was trying to get me to be friends with Merlin. Like that could ever happen!” But of course, as the book goes on, even as things go wrong again and again, Fenway learns that Merlin is not so bad after all. What happens is that when Nana and Hattie go out for a while and leave bird and dog together, Merlin becomes “clearly upset about something,” and Fenway realizes that the bell is missing. Merlin starts to make barking sounds: “Maybe he’s trying to tell me something,” thinks Fenway. So Fenway starts searching for the bell, eventually finds it where Nana dropped it while cleaning the cage, and tries to get it into the cage – but it will not fit through the bars, and ends up on top, where Merlin can peck at it but not really play with it. And there things remain until Nana and Hattie return, at which point Nana cannot figure out how the ball got on top of the cage, but Hattie realizes Fenway must have had something to do with it. And when Nana says to give Fenway a treat for whatever he did, Merlin starts shouting, “GIVE FENWAY A TREAT!” And that, of course, cements an unlikely but firm friendship – and reaffirms that Fenway is one Jack Russell Terrier whose heart is always in the right place, even if he is as easily distracted, demanding, and frequently frantic in activity as JRTs are in real life.

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