Friday, September 9, 2011


By Andrew Clements

Illustrated by Tim Bowers

(Simon & Schuster, 2007)

Confession: Andrew Clements makes me jealous. He does everything right. He writes highly entertaining realistic middle grade fiction such as Frindle and The School Story and is the author of the popular Jake Drake early reader series. Lately, he has spread his talent into picture books, including A Million Dots. Not only is Dogku a picture book, but it belongs in the poetry genre as the story is told in haiku.

An awfully cute stray dog shows up at a family home. The first verse:
There on the back steps,
the eyes of a hungry dog.
Will she shut the door?

Of course, the dog is taken in bathed, fed and played with. He even gets to ride in the car. My favorite verse:
Nose out the window,
ears flapping, hair pushed straight back.
Adventures in smell.

All of this is lovely for the dog the family names Mooch. But how long will it last? Is this only a temporary respite from life on the streets? Mooch gets into trouble “exploring” some tempting places inside the home. He wonders if he has outworn his welcome. Clements sets things up to keep kids wondering as well.

The illustrations of Tim Bowers are well executed though conventional. Something about the portrayal of people comes off as drab and conservative, causing my eye to be more interesting in the backgrounds. Bowers does choose interesting vantage points for some of his art, particularly as the father leaves the house and as Mooch awaits the return of the school bus. While Mooch is adorable, I think it might have created richer discussion if the dog looked rattier on first sighting and remained less cutesy throughout. Visit an SPCA or dog pound. The dogs hoping for a home—at least the ones waiting and waiting—typically rank lower on the adorability scale. (Consider Berkeley Breathed’s Flawed Dogs, for comparison’s sake. I will feature that title in my next post.)

Many teachers will scoop up Dogku as a way to introduce haiku to students. More importantly, the story will capture youngsters’ attention.

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