Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Miles

A friend of mine and I like to collect cat books. What follows is a review of three books from her collection and one from mine. Two of the books are about homeless cats, a topic dear to my heart. The other two books are simply fun reads.

Little Bo is the first of quartet about Bonnie Boadicea, a spunky and curious little kitten, and co-written by Julie Andrews and her daughter. Little Bo is the youngest of six kittens born to champion Persian but abandoned ten days before Christmas. The Persian’s owner asks her butler to sell the kittens. When that proves difficult, he decides to throw them in a lake, and the kittens escape before that dastardly deed can be performed. I love the full-page paintings which open each chapter, and the charming spot illustrations of the kittens. Just as much I enjoy the story of sweet Bo, who seems to be the only survivor of her siblings. The structured side of me would have preferred Andrews to jump straight into Bo’s story OR to have followed the adventures of her siblings too. That little nitpicking aside, the story is a throw back to days of children’s literary anthologies. It’s full of strong-will characters, unique settings, and adventure. I’m delighted to know there are four books about Little Bo!

Trapped is the third in a trilogy, all written in 2008, about Pete the Cat. Pete is a highly unusual cat that likes to help his owner Alex solve mysteries. In this volume, Pete helps Alex track down the man responsible for illegal trapping. As in every good crime story, Pete ends up putting his life in danger to find evidence. Pete also likes to help author, Peg Kehret, tell his story. The viewpoint switches between Pete the Cat and his owner Alex. As a fan of Peg Kehret, I have read many of her books. One thing I dislike about her fiction is the villains are always one-dimensional. Case in point, in Trapped, the bad guy not only traps illegally, but he also is slovenly in appearance, drives reckless, and isn’t above threatening violence to animals and people. Sure, these people exist, but sometimes people who hurt animals are nice in every other way. Despite my wishing the Kehret would create more complex villains, I enjoy her main characters and the obvious passion of Kehret for animals. Kehret is a long-time volunteer at The Humane Society and often uses animals in her stories.

Animal rescue is hot right now. Ellen Miles ought to know. She made a name for herself with the Puppy Place and Kitty Corner series. In both series, a family fosters a homeless animal and helps find it a forever home. Along the way, readers learn lots of tips about the behavior of dogs and cats. They also realize the plight of shelter animals and maybe even find themselves wanting to give a home to an animal in need. Domino is a title in the Kitty Corner series. Siblings Michael and Mia would like to have a cat of their own, but for now they foster. And their latest foster is a kitten found on a ski slope. The less than 100-page chapter book switches viewpoints between the siblings and Domino, and makes for light-reading. Although the books are formulaic, they’re also cute and true to a kids’ world, and could turn reluctant readers into avid ones.

The Cat Who Came in off the Roof is by Annie Schmidt. It’s my favorite of the four chapter books, because the main character is a shy reporter. Tibbles is so timid that he spends his time reporting about cats and nature, instead of about people. He’s at risk of losing his job, when he meets a lady who can talk to cats because was once had been one. She tells him all the gossip around town, including some secret news, and he writes it all up for the paper. Suddenly he is a star. And she has a home. Except nothing can ever stay perfect. There is a bad guy, a quirky neighbor, a pregnant cat, and…. Next thing you know Tibbles has not only lost his job but also been evicted. To find out how things are all righted, read The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie Schmidt, who is considered the Queen of Dutch Literature. She’s won several awards, including the Hans Christian Anderson, and is included in the canon of Dutch history taught to all school children.

This review is dedicated to Marlo, who regularly surprises me with packages full of all things cat. There might be a toy, a movie, or a book. If you want to read more about her story, follow this link: Bonded Together by CKD.

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.


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.


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?

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