Monday, February 22, 2010

Mini-review of The Problem with the Puddles by Kate Feiffer

The Puddle family - Mrs. Puddle, Mr. Puddle, Tom, and Baby (aka Emily or Ferdinanda) - leave their summer cottage for the city, but in the chaos they leave their two dogs behind and don't notice until two hours into their eight-hour car ride. In the meantime, the two dogs - a teacup Chihuahua and a Great Dane, both named Sally - decide to walk to the city themselves.

The Puddle Family dynamic is dominated by the parents, who never ever agree on anything. Tom, the son, is something of a nonentity and wouldn't be missed if he were to disappear from the book. Baby, the daughter whose strange assortment of names arose from her parents' failure to agree on one, is the most normal person in the family. All in all, I found the family and the eccentric folks they meet to be so quirky and unreal as to be quite uninteresting.

However, the two Sallys are another matter altogether! I loved every moment with these two dogs, who (in contrast to Mr. and Mrs. Puddle) demonstrate the best way to run a relationship - with plenty of respect, affection, and willingness to compromise. Even when they have a small spat, they make up quickly, and their easy banter will remind readers of similar conversations they've had with best friends. Here are the Sallys talking about which dog breeds the Puddles remind them of. Little Sally has just compared Baby to a pug.

"Have you ever noticed that she likes to have her neck scratched and pulled? How pug is that?"

"I know what you mean," said big Sally "I kind of think Tom acts like a chocolate Lab. Don't you?"

"Totally, or when he plays catch, he's such a Lab-Portuguese water dog mix...What about Mrs. Puddle?"

"Come on. She's a Lhasa apso if I ever met one."

"I know it! The way she sometimes snarls for no reason at all is so Lhasa."

And so on. Mr. Puddle, by the way, is "the best kind of mutt." I love these dogs!

The illustrations by Tusa were whimsical but not entirely successful - they kept showing the two Sallys being way closer in size than a Great Dane and a teacup Chihuahua would be. And both dogs wear the oddest little bows. But that's just a quibble.

This is a diverting and slightly surreal read whose canine characters steal the show from the muddled human ones. Recommended for ages 8 to 11.

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