Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cats and dogs, living together.

Okay, or at least reviewed in the same post.

First up? Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story by Sam Lloyd

Mr. Pusskins is one angry-looking furball. He takes his happy life with Emily for granted, as you can see from this excerpt:

And each night Emily would snuggle up in bed and read Mr. Pusskins a special story. But Mr. Pusskins never listened. The girl's constant babbling, "Blah-de-blah, blah, blah," bored his whiskers off.

So Mr. Pusskins leaves and has naughty fun in the big city, until the day he realizes he's lonely and living on the streets. I take issue with him telephoning Emily, from a pay phone, since he was totally cat-ish for the entire rest of the book. But Emily shows up and takes him home, where he ends up being a grateful, nicer cat.

Truthfully? I liked him better when he was cranky and naughty. But the irreverent voice at the start and the most excellent illustrations throughout would definitely bring me back to this one, even if it turned out to be a "message" book about how parents love you even when you're ungrateful wretch, and that you'd better straighten up and be nice.

And now for the dog book -- Jake the Philharmonic Dog by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by Marcin Baranski

In this book, Jake is adopted by a guy named Richie (who looks disconcertingly like a Ken doll crossed with Traction Man). Jake barks at birds and car horns, cowers in thunder, and wags his tail to a CD of violin music. When Richie takes Jake to work with him (at the symphonic hall), Jake barks at woodwinds and horns, cowers at percussion, and wags to the violins. He also steals the baton (inexplicably left lying on the floor, awaiting the conductor), which he later gives to the conductor, earning him applause from the audience and a regular gig delivering the baton before concerts. The end.

This book can't really decide what it is. Is it a picture book with a story about a dog, at least somewhat in the vein of The Dog Who Sang at the Opera by Jim West, illustrated by Marshall Izen and Erika Oller? Or is it a teaching guide, with labels next to each of the instruments in the orchestra and a glossary of music terms? As the savvy reader may have guessed, this book tries to be both, which makes it come off as having a bit of a split personality. It starts and ends as a story about a dog, but somewhere in the middle (and the ending glossary), it tries to be a primer on all things orchestral. Understandable, perhaps, since the author is a member of the board of directors for the New York Philharmonic, who is dedicating any royalties she receives to the orchestra. But a tad unfortunate for the reader, who must read lines like "That's not a car horn. That's a French horn!" midway through the book. To say nothing of the page spreads with labelled instruments on them. Talk about slowing down what little dramatic tension there might be. (And folks, I was a music major, so I really, truly wanted to like this book!)

Still, Jake is awfully cute, and if the reader doesn't take the time to turn the book into a teaching opportunity, kids might actually like the (semi-slight) story about a stray dog who finds not only a home, but a job at the orchestra as well.

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