A dog's tale with enough imagination to forgive its fleas.


This young adult book follows a precocious, rural dog named Button and her diverse group of animal friends as they journey from exploring nature to waging war.

Basically a series of short stories connected by Button, the book starts with the canine meeting Ssserek the snake while playing outside. The two get to know one another, comparing fangs and discussing Ssserek's lack of legs. Then Button runs into her other comrades, including Isaiah the skunk, Beulah the opossum, Pip the bird, Ignatius the squirrel, Ms. Lucie the sparrow and Rarebit the frog. Unfortunately, the introduction of these underdeveloped characters starts to read like a list comprised of almost indistinct personalities. But when Sally the beagle and Button go "trap-hunting" (the animal equivalent of searching for explosives in a minefield) things pick up steam. And when Delph the alligator attacks the two dogs, gets caught in a trap and then befriends them both when they–along with the help of Milo the moose–save him, the story nicely drives home the value of cooperation. By the time all the creatures, including Biff the bear, join forces to battle the rats, this inventive book has overcome its poor man's The Wind in the Willows beginnings and has drawn in the reader. Leech more specifically draws later arrivals such as the snobby J. Wellington Blackbird and the dragon Princess Vintrix Sarandra (who drives out the evil rodents), while Mommy Kitty's travails bring some Charlotte’s Web sadness to the tale. When Button fights the nefarious rats that are in cahoots with the raven to save Sally, we're truly concerned with the beagle's welfare. While the story could use some tightening–many scenes seem repetitive, stuck in a loop of introducing characters followed by overcoming obstacles–there’s a lovely, nostalgic, handmade quality to the book that harkens back to a more innocent, immediate time. Presenting a protagonist who learns about the world through actually exploring it firsthand sends a quality message indeed.

A dog's tale with enough imagination to forgive its fleas.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4415-9174-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2010

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Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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