Books for young readers: Two new books are pet projects

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"If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer."

-- Alfred North Whitehead

In 2011 there were approximately 78.2 million pet dogs and 86.4 million pet cats in the United States according to the Humane Society of America. Given the adoration that humans have for their pets, it's no wonder that so many new titles for young people are about companion animals.

"He's not just a dog, he's a member of the family" proudly graces the cover of latest book by Australian author Michael Gerard Bauer. He writes about the relationship a family has with its beloved pet in "Just a Dog" (Scholastic Press, $15.99, ages 8-12).

Twelve-year-old Corey Ingram lives in a tiny town in Australia with his mother and father, sisters Amelia and Grace, and one Dalmatian-ish mixed-breed dog, Mister Mosely. The 29 chapters are stories about their anything but ordinary dog.

The stories are heartwarming, hilarious and extremely entertaining. Chapter nine is titled "Mister Mosely and the Pink Panther." Before Corey's parents married, his father won a giant stuffed Pink Panther for his mother at a fair. Every year his parents would bring the Pink Panther out for the holidays and dress it up in a Santa suit. Everyone was amused by it and enjoyed hearing the tale of how the Pink Panther came to reside at the house.

But something about the Pink Panther did not sit well with Mister Mosely. Corey's Uncle Gavin pretended to move the stuffed panther's arms and tease Mister Mosely.

Mister Mosely did what any dog would do: He tore the Pink Panther to shreds, leaving a trail of tiny Styrofoam balls. The mayhem that takes place after the shredding stays with the reader throughout the story.

Mr. Bauer tells the novel through Corey's recollections. The apparent randomness that results may dissuade readers who are longing for a steadier, more cohesive flow of words, sentences and stories. The writing is a tad choppy and the stories can seem far-fetched at times. But anyone who has had positive experiences with dogs will appreciate the tales.

Read as a collection of short stories, "Just a Dog" is quite successful and likely will have dog-eared pages.

For the younger crowd, a new picture book outlining the relationship cats and dogs have with each other and humans is sure to be a hit. When the next-door neighbor's cat comes to live with Toby and his family, the aptly titled picture book by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, is sure to put a smile on a pet lover's face. "Here Comes Trouble" (Scholastic Press $16.99, ages 4-8) is the story of Pandora the cat through the eyes of Toby the dog.

Pandora is the epitome of a (stereo)typical cat. She chooses her owner rather than her owner choosing her. She pays Toby no attention during the course of her day. She ignores him throughout all the mayhem she creates along the way, which is exactly how Pandora wants it.

Amazingly enough, each mishap ends with "nobody noticed." Toby manages to get dogged out every time he does something naughty, but not Pandora.

The author's thoughtfully chosen words describing some of the duo's adventures are delightfully expressive. One fitting example: "Pandora pirouetted across the patio and knocked over five flowerpots." Words like "pirouetted" are sure to stimulate conversation, as well as enhance vocabulary and thesaurus usage skills while enjoying this enchanting story.

Ms. Jones' cartoon-style illustrations, meanwhile, amplify the humor by showing Toby with a perpetually worried expression. Pandora, meanwhile, floats above the mess with fluffy white fur, a long luxurious tail and charming orange-tipped ears.

Pandora will soon realize that it is a dog-eat-dog world out there. But not to worry, cat lovers: She somehow manages to always land on her feet.


Andrea McNeill is children's and teen librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Hill District.


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