This fall sees the publication of a hilarious new graphic novel for middle graders: Puppy Problems by Paige Braddock (Viking, Sept. 22). In this series kickoff, old friends Crackers, a dog, and Butter, a cat, find their comfortable routine thrown seriously out of whack by the arrival of puppy Peanut. Appalled, the two older pets hatch a scheme to get rid of the interloper, strategically leaving the closet door open so Peanut will chew “our human’s favorite shoe” and refraining from intervening as the “tiny, furry land shark” makes merry mayhem.
It’s not news that dog adoptions have gone through the roof in this season of Covid, as recently reported in the Washington Post. With adults out of work and children home from school, Americans are welcoming puppies into their homes like never before. As the adults in these homes work to tame their growing, furry land sharks, the kids may want to get in on the process, and there are books all along the age ranges to give them pointers.
My Dog Laughs, according to author/illustrator Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018), in this primer aimed at very young listeners and dog owners. She introduces a series of dogs and the multiracial cast of children who love and care for them, helping readers understand how they can best love their dogs, from rubbing bellies to handling the occasional spot of naughtiness.
In My Puppy Patch, written by Theo Heras and illustrated by Alice Carter (Pajama Press, 2019), the titular pup is ready for her first walk—maybe. The narrator, a White child, has practiced “sit,” “down,” and “stay,” and Patch has performed well in the backyard, but there are distractions galore on their walk. The basics of puppy training underlie the narrative arc, making this a terrific picture book to help new dog owners learn the ropes.
Korean siblings Shawn and Kat don’t own neighbor pup Bouncer, but they do learn a lot about how to tame his energy in Most Valuable Puppy, a chapter book for young middle graders written by Carol Kim and illustrated by Felia Hanakata (Jolly Fish Press, 2019). These young entrepreneurs—they run a doggie day care—use kimchi to channel the puppy’s energy and take him from chewing shoes to fetching balls.
Kody Keplinger’s Lila and Hadley (Scholastic, April 7) are two misunderstood waifs in this moving middle-grade novel. Lila’s a pit bull no one will adopt; legally blind 12-year-old Hadley’s been uprooted and must live with her estranged older sister, a dog trainer, due to their mother’s incarceration. Dog and girl bond and learn as the sisters (both are White) work to make themselves a family.
Finally, in a book for older middle grades, Joan Bauer demonstrates how Raising Lumie (Viking, June 16), a guide-dog puppy, helps seventh grader Olive, a White girl, over her grief at her father’s death. Like Hadley, Olive’s had to move in with a sister she doesn’t know well, and like Hadley, working with the puppy is exactly what she needs.
Back at Crackers and Butter’s house, the older pets watch as Peanut shreds their toys (“Sacrifices must be made for our end goal,” explains Butter, before leaping to defend a catnip mouse) along with their humans’ belongings and wait gleefully for their human to come home. But all Peanut receives is a finger-wagging: “It’s like his cuteness is a super power,” marvels Crackers.
Children in families discovering that a puppy is both supercute and a furry land shark will find a lot to recognize in Peanut, Butter, and Crackers’ story—and a lot to learn in some of these others.
Vicky Smith is a young readers’ editor.