A lonely boy and a spunky pup battle bullies and discover family in Bethea’s children’s book.
Six-year-old Jeffrey is a little guy dealing with big problems. His mother died, his father can barely make ends meet, and Jeffrey is bullied at school by his nemesis, Vincent. Life seems to take a turn for the better when Jeffrey unexpectedly becomes the owner of a lovable mutt named Doc Holliday. It’s the perfect match until the school nurse moves into the downstairs apartment and Doc must move to the doghouse outside. When the pup misunderstands a conversation about his birth family, he decides Jeffrey must not love him and runs away. Bethea addresses a host of complicated issues early in the novel, touching on loss and a restructuring of family dynamics, including adoption; Doc journeys to find his birth family. Along the way, he bonds with a pack of lovable misfits, including an aging squirrel and a cat who wants to be a dog. The quirky characters are beautifully illustrated by Wolfe and Valenti, whose portfolios include work for companies like Disney and Dreamworks. With Doc on the run, Jeffrey goes looking for his dog, and Jeffery’s dad hunts for his son, parallel quests that ironically resolve at bully Vincent’s house. Bethea’s moral—“people respect those who respect themselves” —is admirable. That positive concept, however, is undercut by other troubling messages. Violence seems to be the answer to Jeffrey’s problems. It’s only after Jeffrey takes a chunk out of Vincent that the bully extends any kindness. Even more concerning is the behavior of school nurse Annie, who becomes a bully herself when she instructs Vincent to lay off the lasagna. “ ‘Only carrots and celery,’ she said, poking his stomach until the flab jiggled.” Standing up to bullies and gaining self-respect are positive messages. Advocating violence and mocking body size are not.
While the illustrations will please readers of all ages, certain underlying messages are inappropriate, especially for a young audience.