Dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly in DeBear’s picture book about therapy dogs.
Toby and Tutter are therapy dogs who work with their “human mother,” an occupational therapist for small children. They perform many activities with the children—snuggle, play ball, show them how to walk on the balance beam and slide down the slide, and help them stay calm and focused during therapy. In DeBear’s (Be Quiet, Marina!, 2001) tale, first Toby narrates and then Tutter. Toby is a big, long-haired mutt, older and more experienced. Tutter is younger, a big-eyed Italian greyhound who looks up to Toby and hopes to be just as good a therapy dog someday. The prose is simple, clear and well-calibrated to her target audience of preschoolers. DeBear doesn’t shy away from using some words that will require explanation (like “occupational therapy”), and she surrounds these words with plenty of context clues. Bright photos of the dogs in the playroom accompany the text. Young audiences will love seeing pictures of kids their age with the dogs, and the photo of Toby coming headfirst down the slide is exactly the sort of thing kids beg to see over and over again. Unfortunately, the whole thing is about twice as long as it needs to be. It’s easy to imagine the preschool set—who, as a rule, love animals and love simple, true stories about the real world—sitting in rapt attention for most of the book but losing interest toward the end. There are often too many ideas and too many words per page. Keeping track of several storylines—what therapy dogs do, Toby and Tutter’s complicated sibling relationship, Tutter’s hopes to be a trained therapy dog—may be too much for some kids to take in on the first reading. But that just means there are more details for them to pick up on when they hear it for the second, third and 10th times.
Dog-loving preschoolers will want to hear it again and again; a good addition to a library or school’s nonfiction collection.