Hiawyn Oram's Just Dog
illustrated by Lisa Flather
Book review by Dimitrios Sokolakis
Think before you act
Ok, here is the issue: if you are unhappy with the current situation and you wish things would go better, well, think twice before taking action! Things might not turn out as you wished, so it might be better if you just take some time and re-evaluate the current situation before forcing change.
The story Just Dog by Hiawyn Oram deals with the adventures of Dog, this particular family’s dog. Dog is dissatisfied with his name (what kind of a dog name is "Dog" anyway?). Therefore, he’s plotting ways to convince his family to reconsider and provide him with a proper dog name.
His ally on his course of action is the family’s cat, Midnight. It might seem discriminatory that the cat has a proper name and the dog is just Dog (aha, the author is a cat lover), but, on the other hand, the story seems balanced, considering that Midnight has only a supporting role in Dog’s adventures; Dog is the lead character and the story is entirely his.
Since Dog considers ‘Dog’ not a proper name--"It’s just something that says I am not a cat, that I am just another dog," he sighs--he decides to act in order to change the way his family perceives him and to consider calling him a decent and considerably cool name.
At first, Dog decides to draw the family’s attention to his best qualities: he digs up holes in the garden; he barks loudly; he chews his leash to get through the fence and chase policemen.
In his mind, if he manages to do any or all of these better than any other dog in history, then surely he'll be given a better name, like Digger, Barker or Swiftfoot. Despite his efforts, though, all he gets is, "Be quiet, Dog" and, "Bad Dog," since what he perceives as talents are not recognized as such by the humans. Hence, Dog comes up with a different plan.
His strategy now is to play up his loving attributes: He gives everyone the "I'm sorry" eyes and licks, he tidies the garden, he fetches the slippers, he fetches the newspaper, etc.
(Fetch this, fetch that… woof… I wonder why they don’t ask Midnight to do chores; poor dogs rise up!)
Then, finally, something seems to work out for him; the family recognizes that Dog is a good dog, and they want to give him a good dog’s name.
And this is when everything goes terribly wrong: Dog, according to his family, should be called Sweetheart or Pudding Face or Honeybun or Sugarpops--ugh! This is highly frustrating for Dog. A strong, clever dog called Honeybun? Lassie would not be impressed at all.
Thus, when Dog hears his new name, he barks his head off: No, no, you‘ve got this thing terribly wrong…. Just call me Dog, it suits me fine!
The story ends with Dog still called Dog, but now he's reasonably happy about it. It's better than Honeybun, right?
Just Dog strengths:
The story is funny, readable, easy to follow and, possibly, a good start for kids making their first attempts at reading by themselves.
There is an absolute equilibrium between the pictures and the story. Lisa Flather, the illustrator, perfectly depicts each development, putting significant emphasis on pets’ facial expressions. (Take a close look at Dog’s eyes on each page, they're a perfect window into his actions and thoughts).
Room for improvement:
I'm still bothered that the family cat got a name and the dog didn't! Seriously, I struggled with the notion that Midnight had a name and Dog really didn't. It seemed inconsistent. (Perhaps both pets could have lacked proper names.) However, this is a rather minor point.
Funny story, great illustrations! Just Dog barks...err, rocks!
Read more of Dimitrios's reviews.
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