A doggone encouraging manual.


From the Helper Hounds series

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. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Everything that readers have come to love about the Elephant & Piggie books is present—masterful pacing, easy-to-follow,...


From the Elephant & Piggie series

Can Gerald and Piggie’s friendship withstand the friendly overtures of Brian Bat?

When Snake informs Gerald that Piggie is playing with Brian Bat, he is at first complacent. Brian is “nice,” he observes; Snake concurs—after all, he says, “Brian is my Best Friend!” Their mutual reflection that Piggie and Brian “must be having a super-duper fun time!” turns, however, to paranoia when they realize that if their best pals “are having that much fun together, then… / …maybe they do not need us” (that last is printed in teeny-tiny, utterly demoralized type). Gerald and Snake dash/slither to put an end to the fun. Their fears are confirmed when the two new buddies tell them they have “been playing BEST FRIEND GAMES!”—which, it turns out, means making drawings of their respective best friends, Gerald and Snake. Awww. While the buildup to the friends’ confrontation is characteristically funny, there’s a certain feeling of anticlimax to the story’s resolution. How many young children, when playing with a new friend, are likely to spend their time thinking of the friends that they are not playing with? This is unfortunate, as the emotions that Gerald and Snake experience are realistic and profound, deserving of more than a platitudinous, unrealistic response.

Everything that readers have come to love about the Elephant & Piggie books is present—masterful pacing, easy-to-follow, color-coded speech bubbles, hilarious body language—except an emotionally satisfying ending. (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7958-0

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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


From the Elephant & Piggie series

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. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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