Today I am going to take an unusual review approach. At least in the district where I work, we evaluate writing at the elementary-level based on two stars and one wish. In honor of my grade-three students who asked me to read Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret and Chewy and Chica by Ellen Miles aloud to them, I’m going to critique the two books using the feedback style with which my students are familiar.
GHOST DOG SECRETS
I award Peg Kehret a star for creating a page-turning adventure with Ghost Dog Secrets. As part of his attempt to help the abused dog, sixth-grader Rusty encounters a ghost, his best friend’s snoopy sister, AND threats from the dog’s owner. Will the ghost haunt or help? Will the sister keep quiet or rat Rusty out to his mom? Will the owner act on his threats to steal back his dog and invoke vengeance on Rusty’s family? When my students would leave for their next class, I found it hard to resist sneaking a peek at subsequent pages for the answers.
I also award Kehret a star for raising awareness of pet abuse. Rusty began to take notice of the chained-up dog, after his class started collections donations for a local animal shelter. In his efforts to rescue the German Shepherd, Rusty contacted Animal Control who explained to him that he needed evidence of neglect. Even after Rusty took matters in his own hands by bringing the abused dog home with him, he remained in contact with Animal Control who introduced Rusty’s family to the concept of being fosters. When I finished reading Ghost Dog Secrets, my students wanted a copy of the instructions for creating blankets to give to animal shelters.
My wish is that Kehret hadn’t made the abused dog’s owner such a one-dimensional villain. The man left threatening messages on the family’s phone, showed up their doorstep one night and tried to break his way inside, and even threatened to harm Rusty. In the end, it turns out that the villain had a secret to hide, which is why he wanted a guard dog and also why he didn’t want anyone snooping around his place. Although the inclusion of such a one-dimensional villain certainly made for a suspenseful read, I have to wonder if it will give young people the wrong idea about the reasons dogs and cats end up in shelters.
CHEWY AND CHICA
I award Ellen Miles a star for creating a quick and easy read with Chewy and Chica. Each day, I have been able to read an entire chapter to my students. With the countdown already begun to the end of school, I’m relieved to know we should finish the ten chapters well before our final day. What helps facilitate the fast read is the simplicity of the plot. A family fosters two rescue puppies and the siblings start a friendly rivalry about whose dog will get adopted first, but that doesn’t turn out to be so easy when they realize the puppies still need to get trained.
I also award Miles a star for raising awareness of animal rescue. Through dialog exchanges between the siblings with other characters, readers will gain an awareness of puppy mills along with other reasons that animals end up in shelters. Through the actions of the siblings, readers will discover how difficult but important training of foster animals can be. The message of animal rescue naturally flows from the plot, in contrast to Kehret’s heavy-handed style.
My wish is that Miles hadn’t felt a need to have the puppies talk. I suppose it serves the purpose of helping readers understand how canine companions must feel. When Chewy bites and Chica pees inside, readers get to hear their side instead of just seeing how frustrated the actions make their owners. At the same time, when Chewy trembles and shakes after his rescue, it’s obvious that he’s scared. When the two puppies lick their new young owners, it’s also obvious that they are trying to make friends. For me, it interrupted an otherwise perfectly good story to hear inside the heads of the puppies.
What I appreciate most about both books is that they show that our culture is starting to speak up and take action for our furry friends. Given that three to four million dogs and cats are still euthanized every year, I applaud the efforts by authors to educate through entertainment about the great need which exists for change.
My rating? Read them: Borrow from your library or a friend. They’re worth your time.
How would you rate these books?