The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
Two children, Flora and Nicholas, lost in a snowstorm after their car goes off the road and their mother goes for help, are rescued by an Irish wolfhound named Teddy. Teddy has learned to love words from his person Sylvan, a poet who adopted Teddy and brought him to his cabin in the woods where he wrote and taught aspiring poets. The children and Teddy can communicate because, as Sylvan said, “only poets and children” can hear dogs speak. Sylvan has recently died and Teddy is now looked after by Ellie, a student of Sylvan’s who comes by the cabin regularly to tend to Teddy. For several days, the roads are not passable, so the children and Teddy hunker down in the cabin. Teddy shares the sad story of Sylvan’s illness and death while the children cook, gather wood from the shed, and shovel the snow until Ellie and then the children’s parents arrive. In the happy ending, Teddy is adopted by the children’s family. Sylvan had told Teddy before his death to “find a jewel or two” and we learn that Flora’s middle name is Jewel and her mother’s name is Ruby, which adds a bit of magic to the story. Tender and moving, with beautiful, poetic language, this is a quiet and contemplative story about loss, love, and family.
One thing about the book that rang false to me is the original premise that united the children and Teddy – that two young children would be left alone while their car is towed, but if you can get past that one jarring and implausible plot contrivance, this is a beautiful story. The children were never really in danger and Flora left a note for her mother, so the parents weren’t worried, which makes the book appropriate for younger readers, while adults will have to overlook the plot contrivance to get to the heart of the story.
Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Marc Boutavant
This is a fun beginning chapter book that is the first of a new series by Patricia MacLachlan, who often includes animals in her books. Reminiscent of Henry and Mudge, this book is about a little girl named Nicky and her new companion, Barkus, a charming big brown dog. The book consists of five short chapters, each with a story about the pair that is narrated by Nicky. In the first chapter, Nicky’s uncle is traveling overseas, so he leaves his dog Barkus with Nicky and her parents. In succeeding chapters, Barkus goes to school with Nicky, has a birthday party with the neighboring dogs, rescues a kitten whom the family adopts, and spends a night camping with Nicky and the new kitten. The stories are full of energy, showing us the joy and exuberance of children and dogs, with vibrant, happy illustrations.
Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
This clever book tells a story entirely in poems narrated by the three main characters, Sam, his father, and his sister Lucy. Sam is excited about his fishing trip with his dad –just the two of them. But then Lucy wants to go too. Sam thinks she will spoil the trip. Then Lucy catches lots of fish and Sam doesn’t catch any, until late in the day when Sam finally catches a fish – and what a fish! He catches a huge catfish that makes up for not catching as many fish as Lucy. Sam’s attitude towards Lucy changes when she is not jealous of his big catch, but excited and proud of him, and later when she brags to the rest of the family about his catch. The story ends with Sam looking forward to another fishing trip with both his dad and Lucy. The book is illustrated with black and white line drawings. In addition to the entertaining story, this book can be used by adults as a resource for teaching children about poetry because each poem in the book is classified as to the type of poem it is and the end of the book includes a description of all of the poetic forms used in the book, including couplet, cinquain, acrostic, free verse, limerick, and numerous others.
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
This is a sweet chapter book about friendship and taking chances. Diva is a little dog who lives in an apartment building with her person in Paris. She has never been outside of the building and its courtyard. Flea is a homeless cat who has been all over Paris and enjoys his adventures. The two meet and become friends. Flea helps Diva step out of her courtyard and see more of the world and Flea learns what it is to have a home and a family to love you when he is adopted by Diva’s person. Now Flea and Diva have adventures together and then return to their loving home.
Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg
Nine-year-old Eleanor is going to camp this summer! The same camp that her mother went to as a child. Her mom loved the camp, but when Eleanor gets there, her first day doesn’t go so well and she wants to go home. She doesn’t like the food, there are spiderwebs, and she has to be in the baby swim class and wear a life vest. However, as camp goes on, Eleanor finds a new friend, gets to take care of a goat, and her swimming skills improve. It turns out camp isn’t so bad after all. Eleanor narrates the story and she is a charming character with a voice that rings true to children of that age. A sweet and fun story for primary grade children with cute illustrations throughout the book. This is the second book about Eleanor, the first is Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.
Morris Has a Cold written and illustrated by Bernard Wiseman
This laugh-out-loud easy reader features two best friends – Morris the Moose and Boris the Bear. Morris is silly and goofy and Boris gets frustrated with him easily when he doesn’t listen or understand. When Morris gets a cold, Boris knows how to take care of him to make him well. The book features clever word play, as Morris misunderstands Boris’ instructions. A great read-aloud, sure to make kids laugh. There are a whole series of Morris and Boris books. The originals were published in the 1950s through the 1980s, with newer editions reissued under the “I Can Read” series.
The Last Little Cat by Meindert DeJong and illustrated by Jim McMullan
A kitten is born in, of all places, a dog kennel in an old barn. The kitten is the runt of the litter and competes with his siblings for milk and warmth, so he is hungry and cold. One day the kitten falls from his spot high up in the barn and lands on a dog’s crate and then falls through the wire right into the crate! The dog is elderly, blind, and almost deaf, but he welcomes the little kitten and they become friends. The old dog shares his warm milk with the kitten and allows the kitten to sleep next to him. So the kitten is warm and full and the old dog is not lonely anymore. The two live together in the kennel this way until spring comes. Then the dog’s person, a kind man who loves his dog and keeps him in the kennel so he can have companionship instead of being alone in the house while the man works, takes his crate out into the sunshine. The man was unaware of the little cat, as the cat stayed hidden from the man. Seeing the outdoors for the first time, the cat goes exploring and is thrilled by the world – the sunshine, the grass, the birdsong. When the sun goes down, the little cat returns to the old dog’s crate only to discover that the crate is gone – the man had moved his dog back into the barn for the night. The barn door was closed and the little cat was unable to get back inside. So the little cats leaves. He ends up getting lost among the houses adjoining the barn. He is turned away at all the houses until he reaches the last house where he finds kindness. The book has a lovely ending when we discover that the man who has taken in the cat is the old dog’s owner and so the little cat and the old dog are reunited and live together happily in the house. A simple, sweet story about kindness and friendship with cute black and white illustrations in which the dog is drawn as big and wooly, like a sheepdog, and the cat is black and scrawny. I love reading Meindert DeJong because of the deep compassion he has for animals which shines through in his work.