Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: No More Dead Dogs (middle school, football, school play)

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman (Scholastic, 2017, 240 pages, $6.98, grades 5-7) (Caveat: The Korman books were purchased for review.)

Boring, Not!

A book review about a book report? How boring! But the prolific Gordon Korman makes it so not so.

Why This Book?

The first thing to catch your eye is the title, No More Dead Dogs.

The second thing to catch your eye is the cover illustration - a dog lying on his back but not looking especially dead (similar to the cover on the recorded book*). On the back cover is a sitting German Shepherd Dog wearing glasses! Hmmmmm. Why?

Or, the alternate front cover of a cartoon dog’s face with Xs for eyes and the circle with a slash mark meaning not or don’t. So, you  wonder if the dead dogs are real or if the dogs are really dead.

The third thing to catch your eye is the author, the wonderful and very prolific Gordon Korman of the Swindle series fame. So Dead Dogs will be fantastic, right?

The back cover also gives it away. You read that the dog always dies in children’s books plus a refusal to write a book report results in Detention.


We know what the book is about from the back cover but it is also about an unlikely but likable football hero who cannot tell a lie. This lands him in Detention when he writes an unacceptable book report and refuses to rewrite it as a good book. He is removed from the football team and ends up in the school’s play rehearsal with the drama nerds until he writes the report.

This middle school is unlike most – here, the kids can wrestle the play rehearsal from the drama teacher and our hero ends up rewriting the dead dog play a little bit every day.

And of course, there are budding romances as well as a girl who writes to Julia Roberts! And a kid who gets his similes and metaphors combined and all mixed-up.

For Boys and Girls Equally

Each chapter is written by either the main boy or the main girl in his or her voice, with a few chapters written by the girl’s friend or the drama teacher (but they all sound alike). Since few books appeal to both boys and girls, Dead Dogs is unique and worth reading (and a cheaper way to go if you have both a boy and a girl in middle school since they can both enjoy the same book).


Like most children’s books, these middle school kids teach a lesson to the adults but in a humorous way. Each chapter has a couple of twists to the story or a couple of hilarious incidents that are unexpected.

If you have read the very cool, very exciting Swindle** series or even one of them, written about a decade after Dead Dogs, you will prefer the Swindles. Fortunately, Korman kept writing and only improved his skill at understanding kids and getting them into and out of dangerous plots.

Dead Dogs is a good start!

*The recorded book is on a CD.

**The Swindle books appear below.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Movie Review: The Adventures of Pepper and Paula (trick dog, horse, cowgirl)

The Adventures of Pepper and Paula (Vertical Studio, Rated PG, 2015, 90 minutes, $9.97)

Remember co-hits? If you are old enough, when you went to the movies as a kid, you also saw a second, shorter movie before the main attraction. This one usually had unknowns acting in it but may have been more memorable than the main attraction – rare, but possible.

Or, is this a Grade B movie?

We thought that is what we were going to watch. But it turned out that The Adventures of Pepper and Paula (watch the trailer here) was actually pretty good in most places.


Pistol Packin’ Paula is a trick shooter in an educationally almost-inspiring Wild West show, who is adopted by Pepper, a smart, stray, trick-dog border collie.

The cowgirl-dog act travels to a trick shooting competition and takes first place to help save the re-enactment dinner-and-show from financial ruin: there they also meet a little girl and her single dad, the beginning of a lovely story between the three of them.

When Pepper and Paula return to the Enchanted Springs Ranch in Texas, they find that one of their fellow ‘gunslingers’ has been replaced by a flirty young blonde who flirts with the boss (played by Holt Boggs in a fun and most worthy performance).

Unfortunately, Paula the cowgirl is in a motor vehicle accident (Pepper races for help) and is out of commission while she recovers, only to find upon her return that the new ‘girly girl’ is firmly ensconced in the show.

What happens next happens quickly and is surprisingly so well put-together that even we did not expect it! But it all ends well for everyone – well, almost everyone – except the bad guys, of course.

Reading Between the Lines

Doing some internet sleuthing, we found a coloring book about Paula and Pepper (see below).

Hmmmmmmmm, then we saw that the movie was based on a true story about Paula (Seletnik), originally from Connecticut but transplanted to Phoenix, who has even been on America’s Got Talent with her real-life trick Cattle Dog! She'd love to teach your gun-twirling in her DVD, too!

The Best Part of this Family Flick

The best part is that the dog comes before the girl! Pepper gets top billing! And, you can even watch it free here!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: Blue (children's picture book, dog)

Blue, by Laura Seeger (Roaring Book Press, 2018, 40 pages, ages 3-6, pre-school to grade 1, $17.99) New York Times best selling author, Caldecott author, and author of the Dog and Bear books

What starts with the color blue and ends with the color blue - and what color then starts again until the circle is complete yet never-ending?

Too esoteric?

Not at all: children understand this beautiful blue story about the circle of life, told in pictures, and a few words, of course - but very few.

Yes, a book of few words - 17 to be exact! (But one is repeatedly repeated, of course – blue. like in the title)

And this reviewer tears up each and every time she reads Blue (but she can’t put it down and may just buy another copy to keep on her bedside table in addition to the one in the children’s room).

Oh, What a Beautiful Story

Blue begins with a young pup and a young boy and a blue bone, a blue blankie, a blue bear, a blue ball and blue rattle, all on the same page. Then we watch both the young boy and the young pup grow and grow and grow, but always with a blue something sharing the page. They play (berry blue) and they paint (maybe blue), we see them on the ocean shore (ocean blue) and flying balloons (sky blue) and at night (midnight blue). And the boy grows older and the pup grows old. . . .


Blue is a good book for memories of family pets who have passed away, but Blue is best a few weeks or months afterwards, to remember the joy in the life of the relationship – how it started when both were young and how, now that the child is older, they will find other relationships but always remember the first.

The Cover Paw and Other Secrets

Look carefully at the blue front cover of this book and you will see a dog paw. (What do you see on the back cover?)

Can you find the strategically placed cut-outs on each page that lead to the next?

Awards to Come

Blue follows on the heels of Green
(also with cut-outs - watch the trailer here) and surpasses it. I wonder what the next color and book will bring.

Blue is a new book (September 2018) and hasn’t had a chance to win all the awards I know it will, so keep your eye out – Blue is worth it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: Goodnight, Good Dog

Good Night, Good Dog, by Mary Lyn Ray* (New York Times best selling author), illustrated by Rebecca Malone* (HMH Books, 2015, 32 pages, $16.99, 4-7 years, pre-school to grade 3)

Have you ever wondered what your dog does at night if he’s not sleepy?

Does he start out on one child’s bed and end up on another? What does he do in between? Does he make his rounds of the bedrooms and the downstairs only to end up napping on the landing to be ready to thump his tail as if to say, “G’morning!” when the first person finally gets up to greet the day?

Good Night, Good Dog tells the story of one such good dog and what he surprisingly does at night.

Good Night, Good Dog is a Good Book!

More than just a good book, Good Night, Good Dog is one fantastic book.

A children’s book is excellent if the story is wondrous or if the illustrations are lovely but a truly exceptional keeper-of-a-book has both a marvelous plot plus amazing illustrations. This book has both.

The simple line drawings could be found in an already-colored coloring book but look closely to see the humor depicted therein. The good dog in the book looks like a golden retriever-adorable pittie-teddy bear all rolled up into one snuggly pup. Illustrator Rebecca Malone certainly knows dogs and precisely depicts their personality and mannerisms. Rumor has it that her own good dog, Martha, posed for the pictures in Goodnight, Good Dog. Thank you, Martha.

A unique, creative, simply lovely story that is unforgettable.

The sound a fridge makes at night in the moon quiet, the cat shadow of an easy chair, the curl of words – like a dog’s moon-round bed, how houses sleep, how the dog tucks himself in and tells himself “Goodnight, good dog,” and his little girl’s drawing that appears every so often.


A good dog, yours, who deserves a good book of his own, now has one.

Those of you who follow DogEvals know that we encourage adults to read more, even children’s books and even especially children’s books, even as adult bedtime stories. Start with Goodnight, Good Dog!

·      Also by Mary Lyn Ray: A Lucky Author has a Dog and Boom!
·      Also illustrated by Rebecca Malone: Hug Hug!