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In the doghouse

Barking. Digging. Breaking things. True, the pooch protagonists of these recent picture books may have some bad habits. But as it turns out, even not-so-great qualities can have upsides, and the pups are excellent at what really matters: being a kid’s best friend. (And cleaning the floor, of course.)

mcanulty_excellent edIn Excellent Ed, each of the five Ellis children has something that he or she is “excellent” at doing. This gives dog Ed a bit of an inferiority complex: the things at which he excels aren’t necessarily desired skills (e.g., “breaking stuff,” “losing stuff”). The family, though, lauds the ways Ed enriches their lives because of all the things he isn’t allowed to do (licking food off the floor: “I am an excellent floor cleaner. Maybe that’s why I don’t eat at the table…”). Stacy McAnulty’s playful text and Julia Sarcone-Roach’s mixed-media illustrations communicate the family’s warmth and lighten Ed’s identity crisis with humor and vitality. (Knopf, 4–7 years)

perkins_frank and lucky get schooledLucky, a pooch from the pound, becomes Frank’s faithful companion in the business of learning about the world in Lynne Rae Perkins’s Frank and Lucky Get Schooled. The two learn about science (“Science is when you wonder about something, so you observe it and ask questions about it”) and such subcategories as botany, entomology, and chemistry (after the time Lucky “wondered about skunks”); solve math problems; study history and art. How Perkins manages to include so many actual, useful facts in the story is an education in itself. The strands of school and life, boy and dog, and curiosity and investigation are firmly, joyfully, braided throughout. (Greenwillow, 4–7 years)

woodruff_emersonbarksThe star of Liza Woodruff’s Emerson Barks is a small dog with a big (and frequent) bark. Emerson enjoys being a noisy part of his neighborhood. But when his barks scare off the neighbor’s cat, Emerson is in trouble. Trying to obey his owner Eva’s new no-barking rule brings Emerson much misery, including tummy aches and headaches: “Too many barks inside.” The soft illustrations’ varying perspectives and page layouts work well with the text to build to the moment when Emerson finally lets out all those pent-up barks. Fortunately, this time it’s for a good reason, which results in praise for Emerson. (Holt/Ottaviano, 4–7 years)

zommer_onehundredIn Yuval Zommer’s One Hundred Bones!, Scruff doesn’t have a collar or a “human friend,” and the other dogs who do (and their people) look down on his rampant digging habit. Then he hits the jackpot: bones of all shapes and sizes, some as large as trees. Budding paleontologists may figure it out, but Scruff needs to enlist the digging help of the (reluctant) purebreds and then the Natural History Museum to uncover and solve this mystery. In the end Scruff finds the perfect home with a human friend who is in full support of digging. Zommer’s text captures Scruff’s openhearted enthusiasm, and entertaining illustrations keep the action at dog’s-eye level. (Candlewick/Templar, 4–7 years)

From the August 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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