Just What are Buddy and Earl?


FullSizeRender (1)


Buddy is bored and lonely until a strange creature shows up in a shoebox. Buddy is a dog. I enjoy books that personify animals – even with my scientist training – and especially when the author tries to imagine what the animal is thinking based on its inherent behavior rather than creating a character that has human personality traits. Maureen Fergus does this put yourself in its shoes strategy well in Buddy and Earl (Groundwood Books, 2015. Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff). Anyone who has loved a dog will smile when Buddy is told to ‘stay.’ Buddy tries to stay, but he gets an itch and then forgets that he was supposed to stay. What follows is a cute story of Buddy and Earl, the strange creature, getting to know each other.

Buddy and Earl is more than a silly account of each creature wondering what the other is however. Layered under the antics of their developing friendship is the notion of what a friend really is. Buddy eventually gets a scolding and while he does feel bad for disappointing his master, he realizes that he’s no longer bored or lonely. Buddy suddenly knows what Earl is. The ending is so sweet that I’m not saying what Buddy discovers…you’ll have to read it yourself. OK, it is obvious all along what Earl is from the illustrations, but neither the author nor Earl tell, and that’s not all Earl is, which adds to the layering and the sweetness of this book.

Readers of all ages love books more when there is a connection between the reader and the author. I taught about these connections to my fourth graders. Readers can have text-to-text connections when the book reminds them of another book they’ve read. Or readers may experience text-to-self connections when they can personally relate to the experiences of the characters – such books are often comforting and validating. And readers may make a text-to-world experience if the subject matter reminds them of actual happenings in the world. In reading Buddy and Earl, I had a text-to-self connection. I impishly remembered playing pirates with my sister in the same manner that Buddy and Earl did. But I didn’t get caught.


The Wolf’s Boy

FullSizeRender (1)


I spent a lovely reprieve from my world of picture books last week to read The Wolf’s Boy by Susan Williams Beckhorn (Disney Hyperion, 2016). I am more than glad I did. I read this book with the dissecting eye of a children’s writer and yet, I was not able to stay on the edge looking in. I landed smack in the middle of Beckhorn’s world and Kai’s life and was happily immersed. Not only could I not pace myself, reading as much as I could at a sitting, I also lamented its ending. I wanted more. I suspect (and hope) this book will find fans beyond its middle grade target audience.

The Wolf’s Boy will appeal to anyone who likes to root for the underdog (in this case, a boy with a disability) and anyone interested in the evolution of man’s best friend. While very little of the science of this evolution is explained, it is not necessary, nor missed. The story carries itself and the reader inherently grasps the underlying mechanisms that made such a transformation from wild animal to devoted friend possible. This is a wonderful coming-of-age story set in prehistoric time and simply a delightful read.

I wish I had a young reader with which to share this story now. When I read children’s books I often think of classroom applications. Obviously reading The Wolf’s Boy could lead to explorations in the evolution of the dog and comparisons between our understanding of prehistoric times and how closely Beckhorn followed such understanding in the creation of her setting and plot. Less concretely, readers could engage in discussions on inclusion regarding disabilities and the ethics of a society placing limits on those deemed less fit, or the consequences of superstitious beliefs. I am sure there are more applications that are not readily coming to mind. I am equally sure that if I were still teaching, I would read this book with my students – perhaps dedicating a special day to it because I’m really sure I’d have trouble stopping.