Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Ave atque Vale, Stick Dog

UPDATE: According to an e mail from Mr. Watson, there will be TWO MORE Stick Dog books. Hooray!

After twenty years in a school library, I have read 12,000 middle grade novels, by conservative estimate. Books come, they go; they fall apart from overuse, they gather dust and disintegrate from neglect. There are a small, small number that are consistently popular. My Stick Dog collection recently had to be replaced with Perma-Bound copies because the ratio of tape and glue to actual books had reached a tipping point.

According to a nice interview with Mr. Watson, the Stick Dog series would be ten books long. Stick Dogs Meets His Match is the tenth book.

Stick Dog is at once deeply philosophical and ridiculously silly; whether the dogs are trying to outsmart squirrels or save pinatas from abuse, Stick Dog is always deeply concerned about his friends, understanding of their misconceptions, and tactful in redirecting their efforts in positive ways. While occasionally judgmental, the dogs share a deep bond of friendship and and survive because they coexist peacefully and work for the common good.

We could all learn lessons from Stick Dog. Be well, my friend. May the pipe always be dry, the park always full of tasty snacks, and the wildlife frightened enough to keep its distance.

Watson, Tom and Long, Ethan (illus.) Stick Dogs Meets His Match (#10)
September 8th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by the publisher

As the soft, fragrant warmth of spring strips the chill from Stick Dog's world, he and his friends approach the day with a mission. Karen has decided that coffee is magic (after her taste of it in Tries to Take the Donuts), and requests that the intrepid canine coterie locate some instead of going on yet another pursuit of food. Always ready to embrace a new adventure, Poo-Poo, Mutt, and Stripes go willingly to the White House Cafe to try to liberate some beverage to ascertain if Karen is correct in her assertion that it is sunshine, unicorns, lightning, and fairy dust. When they see two harried mothers with strollers, they formulate an elaborate plan that involves Poo-Poo bashing his head into a trash can, then holding the small children for a coffee ransom. Stick Dog is just about to point out that this isn't very nice when the children demand muffins, and the women abandon their coffee in this quest. The dogs carefully transport the two drinks into the woods, and give Karen one all to herself.

This is just an introduction; the main plot is that the dogs venture forth and find a smell of meat; so much meat that they call it Meat-a-palooza. The most obvious explanation is that there is a huge pirate's chest full of meat, but Stick Dog, in his infinite wisdom, notices a truck from Mike's Magnificent Meats, and convinces his friends that they need to travel to the truck's home to find the meat. Also in the truck is a German Shepherd named Lucy with whom Stick Dog is instantly smitten. When our marvelous mongrels get to the shop, Lucy manages to distract Mike long enough for Stick Dog to get a five hot dogs. Since there are not enough to go around, Lucy and Stick Dog share. Our hero is impressed with Lucy's strategic planning, and relieved that he does not have to plan the heist all alone. When Lucy finds that the pooches often goes hungry, she invites them to stop by any time, and offers to help them get food. Stick Dog returns to his pipe with his friends, an unaccustomed reassurance of sustenance, and a heart ready to begin a romantic adventure.

It took a bit of time for Stick Dog to grow on me, but by book four, every new volume was much anticipated. What food would the dogs seek next? What impossible bind would the others get into from which Stick Dog must rescue them? How evil would the local squirrels be? Stick Dog grew as an administrator, motivator, and planner with each new installment, and Karen, Stripes, Mutt, and Poo-Poo added familiarity with their steadfast, unchanging approaches to the world. Their insistence that Stick Dog is the less intelligent one is amusing to even the youngest readers, who can tell that Karen's perceptions of the world are skewed, and that Poo-Poo has probably sustained significant head trauma from his habit of butting into everything.

That's the essential brilliance of Stick Dog. The books are funny to six year olds, who think it's funny that Karen gets into coffee and runs around in a caffeinated frenzy, but also to adults, who can probably assign the personality of each of Stick Dog's posse to people with whom they work! These make great read alouds for younger children, are perfect for emerging readers venturing into longer forms, and a welcome diversion from painful required reading for 8th graders. Suitable for all readers, these will be especially welcome to fans of Simpson's Phoebe and her Unicorn, Pastis' Timmy Failure, and Blabey's The Bad Guys.

Make sure you read them all!

1. Stick Dog (2012)
2. Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog (2013)
3. Stick Dog Chases a Pizza (2014)
4. Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream (2015)
5. Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts (2016)
6. Stick Dog Slurps Spaghetti (2016)
7. Stick Dog Craves Candy (2017)
8. Stick Dog Crashes a Party (2018)
9. Stick Dog Gets the Tacos (2019)

Ms. Yingling

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