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From the Helper Hounds series

by Caryn Rivadeneira ; illustrated by Priscilla Alpaugh

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-63440-774-8
Publisher: Red Chair Press

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)