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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. 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4415-9174-6
Program: Kirkus Indie
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