The Good Dog
Series: The Good Dog, #1
Written by Todd Kessler
Illustrated by Jennifer Gray Olson
Coralstone Press 10/26/2015
96 pages Ages 3—10
“When little Ricky Lee finds a puppy on the side of the road, he takes him home and names him Tako. Ricky’s parents say that they will allow Taro to stay only if he is a good dog and follows the rules—or it’s off to the pun he goes!
Tako wants more than anything to be a good dog and stay with Ricky, but when greedy Mr. Pritchard hatches a plan to put the Lee family’s bakery out of business, Tako has to break the rules to protect his new family. Will he be able to spoil Mr. Pritchard’s plan and be a hero, or will he end up in the pound?” [inside jacket]
The Good Dog is Todd Kessler’s debut picture book. Kessler, better known as a co-creator of Blues Clues, owns a truck load of highly-regarded awards. Who better to write a kid’s book, right? The Good Dog is three times the length of a “normal” 32-page picture book. It should be a chapter book, but Kessler believes kids want longer story-telling and will sit still and pay attention to these longer works if well crafted. He’s started his own publishing company devoted to his longer stories.
Ricky Lee finds Tako, abandoned in a box next to the trash. He falls for the puppy and takes him home. Ricky’s parents agree to let Ricky keep the pup he has named Tako as long as Tako follows the rules and is good. The story shifts into town. The Lee family opens a bakery, making luscious baked goods the neighbors stand in line to buy, they open a bank account and even kids savings accounts for the children. The old bakery loses sales, upsetting the miserly owner, who decides to sabotage the new bakery. Can Tako catch this man before he harms the Lee family or runs them out of town, bankrupt?
Kids like to see themselves in stories and Olson did a wonderful job depicting a multicultural neighborhood. Tako’s family is Asian. The beautifully created, watercolor illustrations give us interesting detail, such as the toddler twins helping paint the new bakery. One paints the other twin instead. Tako is adorable and expressive. His pain at being called a bad dog can be both seen and felt. The problem the illustrator faced is the lack of room to tell the story her way. The text leaves her little wiggle room.
I thought The Good Dog was going to be a boy-and-his-dog story, but it abruptly turns into a mystery once the family moves to town. I understand Kessler trying to expand and give kids a “traditional storytelling” experience (as opposed to a “thin, five-hundred-word, children’s picture book clever concept rather than character development and sustained narrative,” [press release]), but I didn’t like this plot shift.
I am not happy, at all, with Kessler’s depiction of dog pounds. Ricky Lee hears this when he brings Tako home:
. . “If he is a good dog, he can stay.” she (Mama Lee) said. “But if he’s a bad dog, he will go to the dog pound.”
. . “The pound is where bad dogs go when nobody wants them anymore,” explained Ricky’s father Papi Lee.
When the dog catcher takes Tako away, he tells Ricky:
. . “That dog is going to the pound with the other dogs that are bauilk d nobody wants anymore.”
. . “But I want him,” cries Ricky.
. . Papi Lee puts his hand on Ricky’s shoulder. “Mr. Pritchard (dog catcher) is right, Tako has been a bad dog.”
(The scream you hear, that’s mine.)
My experience (dog advocate/ dog rescue) tells me most dogs at the pound are good dogs. The great majority are abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. Some are runaways and yes, some are “bad dogs,” but the majority do not deserve such a stark description. Dogs act badly at times, so I must wonder how many young readers and listeners will worry about losing their own dogs, punished to the pound. True, most kids won’t think of this at all, but a young child still at the stage where everything is this or that, black or white, might. At the very least, Kessler’s description is woefully inaccurate.*
Tako tries to be a good dog, but he is a puppy and puppies unknowingly get into trouble. Kessler gives three examples which are hilariously illustrated. After each incident, the parents call Tako a “bad dog,” but no pound trip follows. Tako does end up in the pound due to a false accusation by a smiling Pritchard. Tako’s cage, stacked at the top, suddenly tumbles and opens; merely a side-track to add length to the story. Tako is in and out of the pound in quick fashion.
The ending is simplistic and unsatisfying. Kids may laugh and even cheer when the building crashes down upon Pritchard, but Tako is supposed to be the Hero and this ending takes that away from him. Sure he got the family out of the building, but the story has Tako suspect Pritchard—others call Pritchard “a good man.” Tako tries to catch him, and is then punished for his trouble. Tako deserves the ending as validation for his efforts. Remember, in children’s stories, kids (in this case, Tako), are supposed to be the solvers, the ones to change the story, to change in the process, and to solve the mystery.
I did think it strange to see a dad so hung up on a “good dog,” smiling while his son plays with Tako—on the table, where food had just been. In the previous spread, Ricky has just brought Tako home and has placed him on the table with food and dripping icing. Yuck! Bad dog Ricky!
What about Tako’s bad behavior? Tako having saved the Lee family, Kessler explains it away:
“Sometimes you have to be a little bit bad to be very good,” he (Papi Lee, holding a happy Tako) said.”
The Good Dog is a cute story of friendship and redemption. The well written story is something I would expect from Kessler, but he leaves little room for Olson to tell her story in the illustrations. She did do a great job adding small details to Kessler’s descriptions. I think kids will enjoy Tako and his story.
A sequel, The Good Dog and the Bad Cat, releases in the spring. I hope we have a gentler, more realistic Kessler if he uses the dog pound theme again. I love the cover and like the story. If the dog pound as punishment, and dog pound dogs are all bad and unwanted, was not there, I’d love The Good Dog.
THE GOOD DOG. Text copyright © 2015 by Todd Kessler. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Gray Olson. Reproduced by permission of the Coralstone Press, New York, NY.
Meet the author, Todd Kessler, at his website: http://takoandricky.com/
Meet the illustrator, Jennifer Gray Olson, at her website: http://www.jennifergrayolson.com/
Find more books at the Coralstone Press website: http://www.coralstonepress.com/
. . Coralstone Press is an imprint of Independent Publishers Group (IPG).
Copyright © 2016 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
THE GOOD DOG by Todd Kessler. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Gray Olson. Used by permission of Coralstone Press .
Full Disclosure: The Good Dog by Todd Kessler & Jennifer Gray Olson, and received from Coralstone Press , (an imprint of the Independent Publishers Group), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”