Wednesday, March 07, 2018


Howard, J.J. Pugs and Kisses
January 2nd 2018 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ana is glad to help out her neighbor, Mrs. Ramirez, by walking her pug, Osito. Ana's parents won't let her have a dog, and Mrs. Ramirez's health won't let her take the dog out as much as he needs. When Ana is out one day, she runs into a cute boy, Calvin, who is walking his own pug, Pancake. He's just moved to New York from Florida, and is getting used to his new environs. When he shows up at Ana's school, she is really glad, and the two continue to meet to walk their dogs. The big problem? Ana has let Calvin believe that Osito is her dog, and the longer she continues to tell the lie, the more complicated it gets. There are other things going on as well-- her sister Tali's QuinceaƱera is very soon, and there are lots of preparations to be made, including getting a dress and an escort for Ana. There's also an important web site design project that Ana is working on for school, and since she is very interested in coding, she wants to do a good job with that. When Mrs. Ramirez falls and has to go to the hospital, Ana is forced to ask Calvin to watch Osito, since her mother won't let her keep him in the apartment. Eventually, Calvin finds out about her lies. Will their friendship be able to survive?

What I likes  best about this book was the fact that Ana's cultural heritage is an integral part of the book, and yet not the focus of the story. We find out interesting facts about a QuinceaƱera and about Ana's family and neighborhood in a very natural way. To me, this is the whole point of #WeNeedDiverseBooks: characters no longer have a "default" of white, even when the stories are more about the dogs, romance, and academic competition.

Ana and Calvin's relationship is also charming. They bond over the dogs and are good friends; they hang out together AND are academically competitive. Ana is intrigued by how smart Calvin is, but also fears that he will give her a run for her money when it comes to being tops in the class and winning the Crown Point Prize. Ana likes Calvin, but she REALLY wants to win the prize and go to computer camp. I'm old enough to remember when girls were told that they couldn't be smarter or better athletes than boys, and it's a relief that none of that attitude is in evidence here! Calvin is very sweet, even after he finds out about Ana's lies, and both children approach the relationship with respect and mutual understanding.

The dog story will appeal to many readers who like this author's Sit, Stay, Love as well as Margolis' Boys Are Dogs, Greenwald's Welcome to Dog Beach, Stewart's Fetching, and Krulik's Puppy Love. As society moves away from agrarian roots, I think that dog books are becoming the new horse books for tween girls, since more of them have access to dogs.

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse (King & Kayla #3)
September 1st 2017 by Peachtree Publishers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kayla and King are having a good time playing with Thor and Jillian, throwing King's blue ball back and forth. When it goes into a neighbor's yard, the girls go over to retrieve a ball, but the one they bring back is NOT King's. He can't make them understand, so he goes looking for the ball himself, only to be told by a cat under the porch that a mouse took it. This seems very strange to King, but he continues to look around. Mouse turns out to be someone very different that the creature King is expecting, but leads to King and Thor making a new friend.

King and Kayla is a great beginning reader series. King tries very hard to make Kayla understand what he is thinking, but she never does. Each story (Case of the Missing Dog Treats and Case of the Secret Code, Case of the Lost Tooth expected March 1, 2018.) involves a small mystery that King has to work through. Each mystery is simple enough that readers can figure it out with a little help. I have fond memories of reading the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries with my mother and working with her to figure out how to solve each one before checking the answer at the back of the book. These books would be good for that activity.

The artwork is simple and clean, and the dog's faces are particularly expressive. This helps a lot when Kayla isn't sure what King is thinking-- we know, because we can see the answer right in the dog's eyes! It's good to see Kayla on the front cover; there's no particular reason for her to be African-American, but there's no reason for her NOT to be, either. There aren't a huge number of early chapter books with children from a variety of cultural backgrounds, but there are a few.

Readers who enjoyed Warner's Absolutely Alfie, Draper's Sassy, English's Nikki and Deja and Mills' Izzy Barr will be delighted with the antics of Kayla and her adorable pet.

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