Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review ~ The Stanley Picture Books

I'm nearing the end of my journey to read and review 13 Canadian books about dogs within a year, for John Mutford's Great Canadian Book Challenge. I've been saving these books in case I needed help crossing the finish line. The help was not needed, but I can't resist reviewing these two, coming in together at lucky number 13.

I first heard about Linda Bailey and Bill Slavin's children's book, Stanley's Party, from my friend Colin. He remarked that Archie seemed a lot like Stanley, so I set out to find out just who Stanley was. Along the way, I also heard about Stanley from my friend Heather, who lent me her copy of the book for a looksee. By time I've gotten to this review, Stanley has become a bit of a franchise, the hero of 4 books, including Stanley's Wild Ride, which I'm also reviewing here.

First published in 2003, Stanley's Party is a lavishly-illustrated ode to Stanley, who looks very much like a Lab (albeit a rotund one with short legs). Stanley is a bit of a monkey, knowing very well what he is not supposed to do, but finding temptation too hard to resist. The end result is a packed canine house party while his people are out. Predictably, he gets caught, but not so predictably he gets the last laugh, and there is a lesson here for us dog guardians: keep your poochies busy and tuckered out so that they don't get into mischief; failing that, take them everywhere with yourself (which is really what they most want anyway, or so I would assume from Archie's mournful howling each time I pull out of the driveway).

Stanley's Wild Ride is the second book in the Stanley franchise, published in 2006. Bill Slavin continues with his detailed and expansive watercolour illustrations. Once again, Stanley is up to something he is not supposed to be doing - leaving his fenced yard (something Archie used to be keen to do as well). Escaping his yard, Stanley meets up with his usual sidekicks and they stay out until all hours. The night culminates with a wild ride when Stanley discovers a skateboard at the top of the hill. Once again, Stanley gets in trouble, but also once again, he has the last laugh.

The books are aimed at children ages 4-8. The stories are actually quite long for picture books but should keep most children, even those on the younger side, engaged. Bill Slavin is highly regarded for his illustrations in this series and they are certainly imaginative and they perfectly capture Stanley's spirit. Either or both of these would make an excellent gift for the children in your life - or for those dog guardians who live with and love an irrepressible spirit.  

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review ~ Coren's The Modern Dog

Stanley Coren's The Modern Dog is my twelfth read in John Mutford's Great Canadian Book Challenge. I have been a Stanley Coren fan for years - I remember watching his Good Dog! program on Canada' Slice TV network when Gabe was just a puppy. The program was on then at 7:30am on Saturdays, so Gabe and I (and sometimes my mom) would greet the day by watching Dr. Coren and playing fetch in the living room. (Gabe is still an early bird; Arch could sleep till noon, though, if I didn't drag him out from under the covers.)

I think I started with Coren's How Dogs Think and sort of went from there, reading most of his dog books. Coren is an engaging writer; a great researcher; and he clearly knows what he's talking about. One thing I'm not crazy about is how he reuses material from book to book. This is understandable - I mean if you're going to spend a chapter talking about the history of dogs in three or four different books, there's only so much you can say. Still, I was somewhat hesitant to shell out my $19.99 at McNally Robinson's for another look at the same topics. What sucked me in was the chapter on the fate of dogs (and pets in general) during Hurricane Katrina, something that interests me greatly. I'm really glad I decided to use my gift card on this one (thanks Marissa, Dan, and Mary!).

The Modern Dog is easily Coren's most accessible book. Coren is a psychologist, a professor emeritus at UBC. This academic background shows in his writing, which doesn't shy away from explaining things in depth. Sometimes it can be a little dry. Not so in The Modern Dog. This whole book shines. Each chapter is short and engaging and I believe most people who like dogs would find this an enjoyable read. In the preface, Coren encourages us to read the chapters in any order we wish, as each is meant to stand alone. The chapters cover everything from why people look like their dogs, to dogs who watch tv, to dogs who fly is space, and finally, to whether dogs go to heaven.

Highly recommended by all of us here at Gabe n Arch, the boys give this one 8 paws up! This would be a great gift for the dog lover in your life.