Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship (Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is is Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon, a touching story of two unique best friends.

On a special farm in the countryside, a young black lab named Rescue is worried. He’s failed his seeing-eye dog training, but his trainer gives him hope, suggesting he will likely make a better service dog. In the big city, a girl named Jessica is also worried: after a terrible accident, part of her left leg has been removed, and her right leg is badly injured. She will have to learn how to walk and move all over again using a prosthetic and wheelchair. Both work hard to learn their new skills, and when a Jessica is recommended for a service dog to help her, Rescue is brought in to meet her. The two bond instantly, and Rescue and Jessica learn how to work as a team – Rescue learning additional skills to assist Jessica in her daily life and providing comfort when her right leg needs to be amputated as well; and Jessica making sure that Rescue has a comfortable life filled with as much play, cuddles, and naps as his hard work. Together, the two form an unbreakable bond of friendship that changes both of their lives.

Heartwarming. Based strongly on the experiences of Kensky, a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the real-life Rescue, the book’s story focuses on both the practical and emotional bonds formed between service dogs and their owners, as well as the training and work that goes into both recovery from traumatic injury, and the dogs who assist these survivors. It’s well-balanced, providing both an educational crash course in these subjects while also exploring their emotional impact. The illustrations carry this theme through, using shadow and light and excellent attention to detail to create both moods and teaching opportunities in each spread, while providing expressive characters that the audience can engage with easily. The length of this one might make it a better for slightly older bookworms, but JJ and I both enjoyed it. A wonderful introduction to the valuable work of service dogs, and Baby Bookworm approved!

George The Hero Hound (Jeffrey Ebbeler)

Hello, friends! Our book today is George The Hero Hound by Jeffrey Ebbeler, the story of a hardworking hound dog and his new family.

George is indispensable on Farmer Fritz’s farm, helping the aging farmer with his finicky factor and to corral the wily cows. But when Fritz retires, he leaves George behind to be sold along with the farm and other animals. A city family named the Gladstones purchase George and company, and set about trying to learn the ropes of farm life (poorly). George, good hound that he is, does his part to help the family as they work out farming life, even tracking down toddler Olive when she wanders off. And after some growing pains, George finds new purpose looking after the farm and his new family.

Very uneven. The story threw me from the get-go by introducing the plot point that George was being sold as a part of the farm, the explanation given that Farmer Fritz is moving to a beachside bungalow that doesn’t allow dogs. Okaaay… but wouldn’t the farmer at least inform his faithful, hardworking friend’s new owners of George’s NAME? It’s a sideplot that doesn’t satisfyingly resolve itself, and sort of gives the impression that dog ownership is something you can foist off on others when you feel like it. Also, there is a distracting discrepancy in the character of Olive, who appears to be an older toddler (around 4) but is described as a baby and having not said her first words. It’s a really strange disconnect for anyone familiar with kids. This aside, the high point of the book is the art, which features some phenomenal background gags of the clever cattle getting into all sorts of silly adventures. But therein lies the problem: if your background art is more interesting than your main story, something isn’t working. The length was okay and JJ was mildly interested, but honesty? I would have preferred a book starring the cows. Not for us.

My Old Pal, Oscar (Amy Hest)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Old Pal, Oscar, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Amy Bates, a sweet story about moving forward after loss.

A tiny black and white puppy huddles under a pier on a windswept beach as threatening storm clouds hide the sun overhead. He spies a little boy playing in the sand, and approaches him with a wagging tale. The boy acknowledges the pup, admits that the little mutt is very cute, and allows it to keep him company – but he firmly states that they are NOT pals. The boy already had a pal, he explains: his old dog, Oscar. But Oscar has passed away, and the heartbreak was simply too much. He misses Oscar, and keeps a drawing of him beside his bed to wish good night and good morning to. But as he opens up to the little dog about his old friend, he realizes that he’s made a new one – and that might just feel okay.

Tender and sweet. There are a some incredible children’s books about loss out there, but this one focuses on a specific issue: the reluctance to let new people into our hearts after that loss. Despite the fluffy, friendly pup being just about the cutest thing on four legs, the boy is not sure he’s ready to love another dog, and the text subtly explores the reasons why: a sense of loyalty to the deceased, a reluctance to be hurt again, or simply the sadness and loneliness that comes with grief. I especially loved that what bonded the boy with his new friend was remembering Oscar to the pup; it encourages children to discuss their grief as a means of dealing with it. The art is absolutely gorgeous, with a rich environment, lifelike and endearing characters, and a beautiful sense of mood and tone. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. It’s a quietly moving story that may help to encourage little ones to have hope after loss, and we loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Stay: A Girl, A Dog, A Bucket List (Kate Klise)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Stay: A Girl, A Dog, A Bucket List, written by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, a heartwarming story of the bond between a little girl and her aging dog.

Eli has been with Astrid since the day she came home from the hospital as a baby. He’s been her first friend, her bodyguard, a warm cuddle buddy, and a safe place to hide. And they have so much in common: they live in the same house, eat at the same table, and sleep in the same bed. The only difference is that Astrid is a girl and Eli is a boy… and a dog. But as Astrid grows, so does Eli (six or seven times as fast, in dog years). Now Astrid is a little girl, and Eli is slowing down in his later life. So Astrid decides that she will make a list of fun things to do together before Eli is too old to do them: going down a slide, taking a bike ride, reading together, seeing a movie, and having a very special meal. At last, when Eli is too old to leave home, Astrid keeps him company and wonders if there’s anything left that Eli wants to do. But Eli is content simply to spend time with his Astrid – it was the only thing on his list all along.

Deeply moving and tender. Losing a pet to old age is a common issue for families with little bookworms, and this is a really nice look at how we can make our furry friends comfortable and show them our appreciation and love in their final weeks or days. And while the story is very much based around the bond between child and dog, it’s a lesson that can be carried to the loss of human family or companions as well. The text and darling illustrations evoke innocence and kindness, and while it is implied that Eli will pass soon, he does make it to the end of the book (though the final line of text still got me choked up). JJ loved the art, and we both enjoyed the story. A touching story of girl’s best friend, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Snook Alone (Marilyn Nelson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Snook Alone, written by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, a tale of a clever pup’s survival when he is marooned on an island.

Snook is a happy, hardworking rat terrier who lives with his master and best friend, Abba Jacob. Abba Jacob is a monk, a caretaker for a small hermitage on an unnamed island. His days are filled with quiet, repetitive tasks, which he undertakes in quiet contentment, Snook a constant companion by his side. One day, Abba Jacob travels to help some naturalists catalog species on a small outer island, taking Snook with him. When a storm unexpectedly descends and forces the party to leave, poor Snook is left behind in the rush. Now Snook must survive on his own, finding food, water, and shelter in an unfamiliar place filled with wonders and dangers alike. As he grows more capable, he continues to look out over the sea, missing his friend and wondering – will Abba Jacob ever return to him?

Right off the bat, let me say: this book is not meant for readers JJ’s age. It was recommended to us by a friend, and it quickly became apparent during our read-through that Snook’s story is intended for older children, early middle-grade at least. However, for the appropriate age-range, this one has tons of appeal. It’s a classic tale of survival, of hope, and of the unending loyalty of dogs. The language is beautiful, painting rich, wild environment while evoking Snook’s confusion, yearning, fear, and devotion; it puts the reader right there with the little dog as his tale unfolds. The art is a good counterpoint to this, using color and tone to immerse the reader in the story. My only complaint is the rather cartoonish appearance of the human characters, which seem odd juxtaposed against the realistic scenery and animal characters. The length is not for little ones (JJ was very squirmy by the end), but fine for older kids. A lovely tale of a dog’s love, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!