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A Menagerie of Pet Books

Pets are a common theme in picture books. Many young readers can relate to wanting a pet or owning a pet – I still remember our first puppy we got when I was only five – somebody my size to play with! Last week I found four fun books that go beyond this common I want a pet theme in that the pets are not quite what mom and dad would consider, or the pets themselves are the main characters.

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In Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Stephen Michael King (2011, Roaring Brook Press), Prudence is so set on having a pet that when her parents say no, she adopts a branch. We never find out how long a pet branch would satisfy Prudence because it meets its demise after dad trips on it one too many times. I won’t give away the other pets Prudence adopts or what finally happens in the end. The illustrations allow the reader to see the world entirely from Prudence’s point-of-view, much like if we crawled on hands and knees to remember what it was like to be two feet tall. Prudence is patient, willful and persistent, and Prudence Wants a Pet is simply a silly, fun book to read.

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In This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books, 2012) we meet Wilfred who finds a Moose, names him Marcel and declares that Marcel is his pet. What follows is an amusing look into what it means to own a moose, especially one who does not know he’s a pet. We also watch Wilfred discover and accept the idea that some things cannot be owned.

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Next, is quirky Mildred who is lonely and discovers a pet puppy, or so she thinks. Peanuts by Linas Alsenas (Scholastic Press, 2007) will have young readers wishing they could jump into the pages and set Mildred straight on her confusion, as well as imagining for themselves all the way an unusual pet could be helpful with their chores.

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Buddy and Earl Go Exploring by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff (Groundwood Books, 2016) is about the creative antics of two pets themselves. I enjoy seeing the world from their perspective and I think young readers will too. I wrote about Buddy and Earl a few weeks ago. See https://lisaconnors.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/just-what-are-buddy-and-earl/

These books are a lot of fun. They may not convince any reader or parent to get a pet, but there’ll be some shared laughs along the way toward making such an important decision. Fish seem to be the fail-safe pet parents rely on. I’m sure there are a few good fish-as-pets books out there, but fish can be troublesome too. My favorite from ages ago is A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer and illustrated by P.D. Eastman. Happy pet readings!

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It Takes a Team to Make a Hero

 

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When my daughter was young we discovered the wonderful story of Balto, the Alaskan sled dog that delivered medicine to the town of Nome in 1925, just in time to stop an outbreak of diphtheria. He was a hero because he persevered through weather that made trains useless. He was a hero because he was tough and strong. And he was a hero because he had help.

By himself, Balto could not have delivered the medicine to Nome any more than his sled driver could have made it in time by himself. It took a team. We remember that team because they were the ones that crossed the finish line. What about the other teams on the other legs of that journey from Nenana to Nome? I am embarrassed to say we didn’t question it at the time. Balto would not be a hero without those teams any more than an Olympic gold medalist cannot become a hero without the parents, coaches and other mentors that helped every step of the way.

I met one of those heroes through my weekly library explorations. Togo by Robert J. Blake (Philomel Books, 2002) is the story of a Siberian husky named Togo whose owner originally tried to give him away, figuring he’d make a better pet than sled dog. But Togo had other ideas and soon was the leader of the pack. This book moved me in the same way the story of Balto did when I read it 20 years ago. Blake captures the tension Leonhard Seppala – Togo’s owner – must’ve felt during the run. We’re pulled into the action when Seppala must warm his dogs’ frozen-shut eyes with his own breath; we struggle with how impossible the mission seems. Blake’s use of oil paint for the illustrations adds a depth that mirrors the beauty of the harsh arctic landscape as well as the horror of being lost in a blizzard.

Togo is one of those books I wished I’d found years ago. It is a thrilling tale of determination in the face of insurmountable odds, and a great reminder that it takes a team to make a hero. It’s a perfect read to share with your favorite little one. I’m going to need a copy of my own.