Monday, May 28, 2012

Middle Grade Monday--Dog Books

Korman, Gordon. Showoff.
1 January 2012
I was feeling kind of "meh" about everything on my TBR pile, but then I came across this! The first three books in this series (Swindle, Zoobreak and Framed) were okay, but not quite as good as some of my favorites-- say, Son of the Mob or Born to Rock. What I did not remember was how beautifully simple, funny, and engaging EVERYTHING Korman writes is. This book made me happy.

Griffin's inventor father and his mother are off on a tour of Europe to try to sell his inventions. Griffin is staying with Ben's family for six weeks in the summer, and given all of the boys former exploits, Ben's parents are a little concerned. When the boys end up at the mall with their friend Savannah and her enormous Doberman, Luther, things go badly awry. Luther is responsible for the tail injury of Electra, a beagle who is a shoe-in to win top prize in the Global Kennel Competition. Slapped with a law suit, the only way Savannah's family can see to get out of it is to take Luther to the pound. Knowing how much the dog means to their friend, Ben and Griffin spring Luther from the pound, hide him, and hunt down famed yet elusive dog trainer Dmitri Trebezhov to get Luther in shape to win the Global competition so Savannah's family has money to pay the lawsuit! Oddly, Dmitri agrees to train the dog, Luther complies, and even though someone is trying to sabotage Luther's chances, the boys, not surprisingly, manage to thwart complete and utter ruin.
Strengths: Would someone in publishing please pay attention? This is a perfect middle grade book, and that perfection starts with two very simple things: Appealing cover and LARGE FONT! Cannot tell you how many times I hand a book to a reluctant reader only to have them turn up a nose at the ten point font.  Fourteen point AT LEAST. Thank you. And to this engaging characters with an aptitude for destruction, goofy yet not over-the-top circumstances, and a bit of Nair sprayed through a hole in a door... good stuff.

Weaknesses: The inventor father was almost over-the-top. And yet the dog trainer who took a huge Doberman to an Italian restaurant to eat linguini strand by strand was not. Hmmmm.

Lorentz, Dayna. The Pack. (Dogs of the Drowned City #2)
Scholastic, 1 May 2012 (paperback)
Reviewed for Young Adult Books Central

Shep, Callie, and the other dogs leave the animal shelter and meet up with Honey and Fuzz, a cat who can speak dog! Shep decides to let Fuzz into their pack because of Honey's attachment to him. The pack doesn't have a safe space to sleep, and when they finally find an abandoned boat, fights break out because of the crowded circumstances. There are problems with wild dogs as well as alligators, but Shep does meet the fierce Blaze, a girl dog to whom he takes a shine. Every day is a struggle, because food is scarce and pack politics are complicated. At one point, Shep decides to throw Fuzz out of the pack, with disastrous consequences. Just as Shep is beginning to get his pack to a point where they have food, shelter, and can get along with each other, humans start arriving back in the city and kidnapping dogs.
Strengths: Like the Warriors books, this series focuses on the survival of animals who have to deal with both each other and the privations of their environment. I was able to tell the dogs apart much more easily than I could tell the cats apart, and the exterior crisis of the flood (basically something like Hurricane Katrina) makes the survival seem more realistic.
Weaknesses: As in the first, sometimes describing a place or event in the way that dogs would explain it was needlessly confusing.

Lorentz, Dayna. The Return. (Dogs of the Drowned City #3)
Scholastic, 1 June 2012 (paperback)
Reviewed for Young Adult Books Central

More and more humans arrive back and are picking up dogs, but Shep has decided that he likes to be free to hang out with other dogs, chase squirrels, and not be cooped up. The others dogs, however, still want to find their families. Callie has been taken to a pound, but the dogs locate her and break her out. Callie is upset that Shep was mean to the woman. At the same shelter, they pick up Pumpkin, a friendly young Yapper. The dogs decide to head to the beach, thinking that it will be easier to locate their families once they are there. Zeus joins the group, so Pumpkin gives all the dogs "cute" lessons so that they will not seem threatening to humans. After meeting up with a dog who was not separated from his humans, and getting some food and kindness from the humans, Shep feels that he might like to find his boy. When he is later attacked by a shark, it seems like an even better idea. How can Shep be a good pack leader and take care of all the dogs AND find his way back home?
Strengths: A three book series was just right for this topic, and moved the plot along nicely. Shep's philosophical musings were interesting.
Weaknesses: I think these are all in paperback only, so I'll have to find prebinds for my library.

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