Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: The Digging-est Dog (dogs, boy, farm, digging)

The Digging-est Dog, by Al Perkins (Random House, 1967 [hardback] and 2006 [paperback revival], 72 pages, $8.99, Preschool to Grade 2)

(The previous DogEvals blog reviewed a digging dog book, A Perfect Day for Digging, so we thought it would be fun to follow up with another digging dog book!)

Some rhyming books are contrived: The Digging-est Dog is not – its rhyming scheme is natural enough to keep you reading along with your child (rhymes also make it easy for children to read and memorize).

Poor Duke

Duke the dog is adopted from a pet shop after living there on a concrete floor for a long long time. He has never had the opportunity to dig so when he goes to live on a farm with his new boy Sam and meets the neighbor dogs who all dig, he is ashamed of himself and shunned by them. His boy tries to teach him to dig, but, with no success, until the following day when he wakes up – perhaps he learned to dig while dreaming!

Now, Duke doesn’t stop digging – he digs everywhere. He digs up the garden, he digs in the town, he even digs under the highway. And now, the neighbor dogs shun him for overdigging.

Duke’s Solution

So Duke decides to dig down. And down, and down. Until he hits water and can’t get out of the deep hole he has dug for himself. How will his clever canine friends band together to save him? And how does Duke manage to undig the highway and the town and the garden and find his way back into his boy's heart?

You have to read the book to see Duke’s solution!

Duke’s Niche

Fortunately, Duke finally finds his niche – as a plow on his farm. And all is well that ends well.

However, . . . .

The Digging-est Dog appeared on the scene in the 60s as a hardcover book and more recently in paperback – the sign of a classic. However, we no longer recommend that pet stores sell dogs or that dogs live outdoors in a dog house like Duke’s. Today dogs are family members and have their place inside our homes. The book’s saving grace, however, is that these two points serve as conversation starters with our children.

Another issue that dates this book is the use of the word, master, to depict Duke the dog’s person – also a subject for conversation. 

And one might expect this book to have been written by Dr. Seuss due to the cat-in-the-hats on the front and back covers – all they mean, however, is a good rhyming book with a great story for children to be able to read all by themselves.

I am so glad this book is still in print!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: A Perfect Day for Digging (dog, garden, digging, girl, boy)

A Perfect Day for Digging, by Cari Best with illustrations by Christine Davenier (Two Lions, 2014, 39 pages, $17.99, ages Preschool – Grade 1)

Another Golden Retriever?

Perhaps. If you squint. But if you are not a golden retriever person, this dog could be Anydog, even yours. That’s the beauty of Christine Davenier’s illustrations.

Hooray for Dirty Digging!

Nell, dressed in red overalls with fun garden rainboots, and Rusty, her trusty sidekick of a dog, are outside making a garden on probably the first day of spring, when “the trees unfreeze,” but they also find long-lost treasures you remember from your childhood: a marble, a wiggly worm, . . . .

“Dirt is for Digging, Rusty, Not Eating.”

Nell digs like a chipmunk and digs like a badger and digs like a mole and digs like a steam shovel while Rusty digs like a dog (usually)(because he is one).

Golden Dirt Angels, chocolate paws, and a story full of fun words that sound alike and go together in unique ways: clumpy, lumpy dirt is dirt we can all see in our mind’s eye.

Norman from next door, on the other hand, hates getting dirty. Can Nell convince Norman to dig in the dirt? Can Rusty convince Norman to dig in the dirt? Read A Perfect Day for Digging and find out!

Fun Words and An Illustration to Gnaw On

I love the new word combinations that are so vibrantly visual like ‘crunch’ and ‘crumble’ the still somewhat frozen spring earth. Love the action-packed watercolors of a dog in motion, however, the outdoor doghouse depicted is good only for a discussion that dogs nowadays are part of the family and should live primarily indoors like us. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

DVD Review: Best in Show (dogs, spoof, dog shows), Part Two

Best in Show (Warner Home Video DVD, $12.99, 2000, 89 minutes, rated PG-13) [Cont.]

It Gets Better with Age, However

In 2000, I had been a dog trainer for only a few years. I had yet to cover Westminster once, let alone seven times. I had not taken a conformation course. So I didn’t really know what was a farce of dog shows and what was just plain silly.

Now, with many more years’ experience under my collar, I can appreciate the truth, and there is very little, thus leaving me to enjoy the slick humor. And, thankfully, I had forgotten who ended up winning BIS so the suspense even had me going (and “in stitches” at times).

Characters All, Conversations Abound, Arguments Often (“Don’t Spit on Me!”)

Harlan Pepper with Hubert the Bloodhound from Pinenut, NC.

Harlan owns the Fishin’ Hole and collects beach balls (more than 500 to date). He grew up with blue tails and red bone coonhounds. Harlan can talk to anyone about anything and forever without pausing to take a breath but it’s hard to follow his logic (or lack of logic) in flitting from one topic to another even in the same sentence.

Scott and Stefan from Tribeca, NYC, are the Shih Tzu ‘queens.’

For their 48-hour trip, Stefan took eight kimonos. Stefan is a former Army brat while Scott owns his own hairdresser salon. After the show they dress up their pups and photograph them as well-known romantic couples in literature for a calendar they will be selling. I will probably not be a purchaser, however.

Silent Jack (or is it Leslie?)(approximately 95 years old) and his wife, 25-year-old Sherri Ann (a Zhasha Gabor type) from Romulus, NY.

This odd couple own white Standard Poodle, Rhapsody in White, who won BIS the past two years. Handler Christy is the opposite of Sherri Ann – short haired, thin, prone to wearing pants suits. Sherri Ann and Christy end up starting a magazine called American Bitch for lesbian cover couples who own female dogs.

The attorney couple, Hamilton and Meg Swan from Moordale, IL, with matching braces on their teeth.

These “Yuppy Puppies” met in Starbucks years ago and still remember that Meg was drinking a vanilla latte while Ham was sipping an espresso (or whatever). Typically stone-faced, they verbally spar during therapy sessions with their Weimeraner and verbally spar backstage at the Mayflower and verbally spar. . . well, you get the picture. Canine Beatrice remains calm throughout but, unfortunately, jumps up on the judge repeatedly during judging, resulting in her being excused (disqualified and asked to leave the show ring) and, later, replaced with a humping Pug.

And the Winners are. . . . (at least the winning characters)

Gerry and Cookie Fleck from Fern City, FL, may be the folks who are closest to normal even though Gerry has two left feet (a joke that gets too much play). Gerry is a salesman at Talman’s men’s clothing store and the two like to sing “God Loves a Terrier.” Of course, they have a Norwich Terrier, Winky, who also seems to be normal (as all of the dogs in the movie seem to be – not the people). The Flecks were offered their name on a Pooper Scooper but turned it down.

Tied for first place in the realistic category is also Buck, one of the commentators. His areas of “expertise” include ‘crates, kibble and cookies.’ He has a propensity for hoof-and-mouth disease on air.

On the whole, BIS could be entertaining if you are multi-tasking at the same time. It could also be an inexpensive babysitter. Go for it!

Caveat: DogEvals purchases products for review unless otherwise stated. This DVD was borrowed from the public library.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

DVD Review: Best in Show (dogs, spoof, dog shows)

Best in Show (Warner Home Video DVD, $12.99, 2000, 89 minutes, rated PG-13)

Best in Show in Review

Has your family seen Best in Show? Ready to see it again?

Our family loves movies. We actually went to 10 in one week – before the Age of DVDs. So, being the good dog people that we are, when we heard that Best in Show was going to open, for the first time in our lives we went to see it on opening day in 2000. Oops!

Long-Awaited Much-Anticipated Afternoon Spoiled

Best in Show (BIS) tries so hard to be funny.

If only it had a real plot, perhaps with a rescue dog who goes on to win BIS, or a 19-year-old formerly homeless handler or high-school drop-out who wins – or even  a lovable ex-con or a handler from Syria (if the movie were made today).

Instead, it is slapstick after slapstick with lots of non-funniness in between – too much non-funniness. Amazon agrees with this reviewer: their reviews are all over the map from 1 to 5 stars.

‘Real’ Characters

Characters, however, are real characters, especially Cookie, a total looker married to Gerry. Our couple continually runs into Cookie’s old flames as they travel across country from Florida to the big dog show in Pennsylvania – flames from her wild high-school days. Everyone seems to have known Cookie and most knew her in the Biblical sense. Nevertheless, she is almost real and a really lovable person, perhaps the sole one.

In second place is the delightfully daffy dog show commentator who knows nothing about dogs - really not a prerequisite, however, if one’s questions are spot-on. However, our color commentator wonders if the bloodhound might win if he were to dress like Sherlock Holmes, with pipe and hat; and questions if German breeds and French breeds bark differently; and remarks that one handler seems to – no, actually HAS - two left feet (our lovable Cookie’s husband); and of course relates that the Mayflower landed in Philadelphia which is why the hotel is there! Duh!

And Some Real People

And I have to hand it to them – the handlers actually look good, taking their dogs around the show ring. It turns out the ‘movie stars’ took showmanship classes for two weeks in preparation. And the judges look very professional. (I found out later that only two of the judges are not judges in real life, so, of course, they seemed authentic. Good casting.)

Dog Family Fun

Do you have a dog? Or kids? Have you ever been to a dog show or seen one on TV? Then you might be interested in Best in Show (BIS).

BIS is a spoof on dog shows and the people who show dogs, especially hilarious for the ‘kid crowd’ due to the humungous number of slapstick jokes that adults will groan at. Fortunately, the sexual innuendos simply pass over the heads of the younger set. (Listen carefully, Mom and Dad.) Or can also be taken naively.

Was it Improvised? Was it All Improvised?

In a nutshell, conversations and interviews of the five ‘families’ are shown in their hometowns followed by the dogs coming together in Philadelphia for the show and concluding with updates six months later.

Starting out too slowly, the movie picked up speed as showtime approached. Conversations and interviews can be an excellent method of insight into one’s soul and experiencing their innermost thoughts and feelings, and even fights - this bizarre collection is no exception.

Y2K It Isn’t

The year 2000 is the 125th showing of the Mayflower Kennel Club dog show (not the Westminster) in Philadelphia (not New York City). The colors of the Mayflower dog show are blue and yellow (not purple and gold). And the dogs stay at the Taft Hotel not the Hotel Pennsylvania. However, there are nearly as many dogs – about 3000, but we simply do not see the crowds in the hotel lobby or behind the scenes at the show.

I suspect the ‘dog boxes’ were borrowed directly from the Westminster Kennel Club – same color, same size. Backstage, in the grooming area, see if you can spy the small sign, Domestic Canine Appearance Technician.

With only five dog stars and five owners/owner couples, I was wondering how the dog show itself would be portrayed. Dog shows include seven breed groups and only five have canine participants in the movie – it turns out a Husky and Pointer (probably real champions) were included to round out the field.

Caveat: DogEvals purchases products for review unless otherwise stated. This DVD was borrowed from the public library.

Tomorrow: More on Best in Show

Friday, June 10, 2016

Movie Review: Kayla (dogs, kids, Canada, dog sled, winter, growing up, 1920)

Kayla*: A Cry in the Wilderness (A wild dog tames a young boy’s loneliness and pain) (ONE-ACTION Canada Questar DVD, $8.65, 2000, 96 minutes, rated NR)

In a Nutshell

The year was 1920, the year after the flu epidemic. It was winter in northern Quebec and a young boy moves to the country with his mother newly married to a country doctor after her husband, son of a famous explorer  named MacKenzie disappeared in the wilderness several years previously.

A pack of dogs roams the countryside, taking farm animals – sheep and calves. Against the doctor’s advice, the township sets out strychnine to rid them of this problem.

The boy believes his father is still alive and also believes one of the pack dogs is his father’s lead sled dog, Kayla. It is also tough to suddenly have a new stepfather who is very different. . . .

The Boy who Talks to Dogs, Carpenter Hands,  and . . .

. . . love and hate and skis and snowshoes and plenty of shouting in anger and threats of boarding school in Montreal and a sled dog race with no rules and a girl friend who makes dog sleds and a boy forced to grow up.

Pre-View Perhaps

Parts of Kayla can be a bit uncomfortable for children to view (like many animal stories) but all the way through, they will cheer as Sam the boy shows he is smarter than the adults (and, isn’t that what makes family movies great?)

Lessons Learned

What does it take for adults to learn the lessons that children already know? What is a father? When does one let go of a dream? What makes a family?

A study in history reveals itself in the automobiles and the songs children may not know but grandparents will sing along with.

Nice Family!

*Kayla can be found in some libraries and also on Amazon. The movie is adapted from Three Dog Winter. Notice the harnesses on the sled dogs: they are back attach harness which encourage the dogs to pull, unlike front-attach harnesses (like the Easy Walk), which help prevent pulling in family dogs nowadays.