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From the Helper Hounds series

A doggone encouraging manual.

In this new series outing, energetic dog Sparkplug takes his helper mission seriously.

Half border collie and half Bernese mountain dog, Sparky meets human Tasha after being surrendered to an animal shelter. She enrolls him in obedience classes, where Sparky proudly excels. His mission as a new, “world-famous, card-carrying Helper Hound” is to provide “love and encouragement” to people in need. His current assignment is Mary, who, after a recent family separation and move across the country, is nervous about attending a new school. Sparky models for Mary how to “settle” by performing his good behaviors and is determined to show Mary that making friends is possible, no matter what—even with her bristly cat! Sparky’s first-dog narration is exuberant, humbly confident, and playful, mirroring his personality. The text is interwoven with encouraging suggestions and dog facts, and the backmatter includes “Tried-and-True Tricks for Making Friends” (being a good listener, bonding over laughter, etc.) as well as some facts on Sparky’s heritage breeds. The text contains no references to race, but illustrations cast trainer Tasha with dark skin and Mary with light. Most of the text is Sparky-centric, which tends to overshadow Mary’s struggles; what should be a pivotal scene in which Mary meets her new classmates is short and accomplished with surprising ease. Regardless, the story, with an appropriate decoding level text for an early chapter book, should appeal to dog lovers and anyone who needs reassurances of their own. Companion title Penny Helps Portia Face Her Fears focuses on another Helper Hound, a pit bull who helps a white girl with Down syndrome overcome her fear of dogs.

A doggone encouraging manual. (Fiction. 6-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63440-774-8

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Red Chair Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Having put together a band with renowned cousin Duck Ellington and singer “Bee” Holiday, Rooster’s chances sure look...

Winning actually isn’t everything, as jazz-happy Rooster learns when he goes up against the legendary likes of Mules Davis and Ella Finchgerald at the barnyard talent show.

Having put together a band with renowned cousin Duck Ellington and singer “Bee” Holiday, Rooster’s chances sure look good—particularly after his “ ‘Hen from Ipanema’ [makes] / the barnyard chickies swoon.”—but in the end the competition is just too stiff. No matter: A compliment from cool Mules and the conviction that he still has the world’s best band soon puts the strut back in his stride. Alexander’s versifying isn’t always in tune (“So, he went to see his cousin, / a pianist of great fame…”), and despite his moniker Rooster plays an electric bass in Bower’s canted country scenes. Children are unlikely to get most of the jokes liberally sprinkled through the text, of course, so the adults sharing it with them should be ready to consult the backmatter, which consists of closing notes on jazz’s instruments, history and best-known musicians.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58536-688-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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From the Elephant & Piggie series

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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