Offbeat pet picture books

Four picture books feature stories of unusual pets, from a ghost cat to a balloon puppy to a dog who thinks he's a baked potato. Also check out Jon Agee's hilarious new picture book I Want a Dog, reviewed in the upcoming November/December Horn Book Magazine, in which a determined little girl sets out to adopt a dog but goes home with…a seal (happily, it turns out!).

In Kevan Atteberry's Ghost Cat, a tender and restrained story of moving on after loss, a young boy states matter-of-factly that there's a ghost in his house; he suspects it's his beloved cat. The ghost isn't frightening and even brings comfort, as the boy can feel the spectral feline curled up on his bed. Atteberry keeps the illustrations unfussy — the focus is always on the boy and cat — and even the palette is spare. (Holiday/Porter, 4–7 years)

Spencer's New Pet — a wordless picture-book ode to black-and-white silent film comedies — stars a boy and his new pet, a balloon puppy. A walk around town offers moments of drama, including close encounters with porcupine quills, a piñata bat, and an eagle's talons. Luckily, the balloon survives unscathed — and readers discover why in the superbly executed twist ending. Jessie Sima's digitally rendered illustrations capture the feel of nickelodeon cinema, right down to the muddied grays, grainy texture, title cards, and occasional iris-shot effects. (Simon, 5–8 years)    

"This is a story about a kitten," begins the story-within-the-story a girl is writing and illustrating, in [Horn Book alum!] Liza Woodruff's A Quieter Story. The girl's orange-and-black tabby responds, "A kitten?! Don't you mean a...TIGER!" As the child revises her work to suit his wishes for a tale with "PIZZAZZ!" — adding "ROCKETS! ROBOTS! LIGHTNING! SHARKS!" — the kitten becomes increasingly (and humorously) nervous. The girl's imaginative artwork benefits from Woodruff's own deft use of cheery colors. (Holiday/Ferguson, 5–8 years)

In I'm a Baked Potato!, when a baked-potato-loving woman decides to get a dog, she finds a cute little pup who is "smooth" and "warm," and names him Baked Potato. One day the lady goes out, and the dog goes looking for her. In searching for her, he also, inadvertently, searches for his own identity, as a series of encounters leads him to realize he is not, in fact, an actual baked potato. Juana Medina's digital illustrations use color and line effectively; and though the details in Elise Primavera's story are quirky, the arc is familiar and comforting. (Chronicle, 5–8 years)       

From the October 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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