A dog and his man find redemption in this old-time cinema-style picture book.
The Duke, a spindly, menacing white man in a dapper suit and bowler, is known around town for his dastardly deeds. Tricky, his loyal accomplice, applies his canine wiles in tripping people, menacing children, and pilfering baked goods. But the way to this dog’s moral compass is through his stomach, and when the new baker, Ms. Paisley, offers him a treat, he overcomes his suspicion of this kindness—“and for the first time, Tricky realized that what they were doing was WRONG.” Tricky takes his change of heart out on his owner, wreaking havoc on the house until he’s caught, kicked out, and rehomed with brown-skinned Ms. Paisley. This loss spurs the Duke toward his own rehabilitation; readers learn that “if old dogs can learn new tricks, perhaps the Duke could too.” There’s not much complexity in either arc, since every character is broadly drawn as good, bad, or formerly bad, and the text can be a bit heavy-handed, perhaps gearing it for younger children. The animated illustrations are especially deft at showing small shifts in body language, making even the nasty Duke somewhat endearing.
Rich images and a lovable dog make up for the slightly cloying message in this promising debut. (Picture book. 2-5)