Stick Dog
2012 • 224 pages

Ratings1

Average rating4

15

This book is fun and I can honestly say I love it despite its minor flaws. As a child, I would have taken this whole series from the school library and eagerly awaited each installment - if only it existed back then. I enjoyed reading it, and even managed to giggle at some of the jokes despite being am adult myself.

Stick Dog is a fun story about canine friends who seek out delicious hamburgers when they find a family grilling at the park. They have hilarious and adorable antics along the way, narrated by the child who drew them. (This gets a little confusing for us adults in the mix, because the child's name is also the author's name instead of a fictional character's. I assume it's done to avoid confusing children who read this book, but I worry perhaps it's an unnecessary blurring of the lines between reality and fiction.) Each dog has a unique appearance and personality, and they interact in a way which feels natural.

In terms of content, I can't say it's clear what the target audience is. There are words and scenarios which require an older audience capable of reasoning and vocabulary building (e.g.: distraction, contraction, rhinoceroses, and other large words). Parents of impressionable or particularly young kids may want to provide some guidance due to cartoon logic and some instances of dangerous behaviour not being fully addressed as very bad ideas. For the sake of helping parents make an informed choice, I'm listing things which stuck out to me as inappropriate for a very young reader unless they have proper guidance:

* In one instance, a dog suggests intentionally getting hurt - by jumping off a cliff into rocky water - for attention, so that humans will pity them and give them food. Her friends decide to shelve that idea as 'Plan B.' For mature readers, it's obvious they're placating her and think it's a terrible idea; for less reasonable readers, like young children, it may not be as clear.* In another instance, one dog says he can run face first into a tree and only get a little injured. The other dogs consider that a good idea, as it might help distract humans while they steal hamburgers. It's later likened to being as harmless as when a baby stumbles while learning to walk.* There are moments of animal prejudice - dogs against squirrels and mailmen - which may be inappropriate in some parent's eyes. I personally thought it was all in good fun, but just be aware it exists. One dog tolerates another's hatred of squirrels, despite feeling it's wrong, just to placate him. Another instance has a dog saying he had a human who was very nice to him, but he barked at his human anyway because there was no choice since that human was a mailman. It's the kind of logic racists use and doesn't get addressed, so it may be important to discuss with a young reader why this is not a good way to think.* I don't know how to explain this one bit without just transcribing it. The narrator is talking about how it feels to burn the roof of your mouth and says: "you burn the roof of your mouth so badly that it makes a little flap of loose skin hang down, and you spend the rest of the day trying to tear that thing off with your tongue???only it takes forever, and it SLOWLY DRIVES YOU CRAZY until you???d do just about anything, INCLUDING STICKING A VACCUUM CLEANER???S SUCKING TUBE THINGY IN YOUR MOUTH, just to get it out!" Emphasis is not mine; it's all caps in the book. There is also an illustration at this point of a child shoving a vacuum hose into his mouth. Needless to say, you'll want to make sure your child is mature enough to know this is by no means okay to do in real life!

As for those minor flaws I mentioned earlier: Well, much like many cartoons and children's books, there are illogical moments. Why does Poo-Poo the Poodle know what slingshots and cannons are? (Don't worry, it's all used in comical daredevil humour, not as tools for direct violence.) Why do suburban dogs know what a warrior human is or that said warriors have swords? (One dog mistakes a woman with cooking utensils as a warrior with a mighty sword.) How does a dog know the phrase “at a hundred miles an hour”? How does a dog know how to spell ‘distraction'? These things are inherent flaws, but given the book is for children and these elements make it more entertaining and fun, I can't fault it much. I mean, sponges also can't talk and dogs can't solve mysteries but Spongebob and Scooby-Doo are beloved children's media characters. Besides, this isn't just a book about dogs; it's a book about a kid telling stories he made up about dogs. There's a lot of leeway to be had there, since kids don't generally notice problems like that when telling stories.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, yes. Would I let my own kids read it if I had any? Yep! If they were eight or younger, I'd want to discuss the book with them during or after they read it, but otherwise I wouldn't mind.

Avid and reluctant readers alike would probably enjoy the adventures of Stick Dog and his motley crew, but some may need the help of a trusted older person to understand certain aspects or words. I also think having a dialogue with children about reality vs. fiction is vital, and anyone whose child understands the concept likely won't acquire any dangerous ideas from the antics in this book. As for older kids, I can't say for certain. At times, this book feels more middle grade, but the contents and storytelling style seem like they might embarrass middleschoolers. I'd have loved it myself, but I never lost my love for cute animal-based stories.

Overall, I love Stick Dog and I'm so happy that I decided I need a simple, cute book to cleanse my palate after reading an infuriatingly bad one. Thank uhoh, Tom Watson, for the happiness Stick Dog and his friends gave me. I hope they do the same for children, especially those who need a reason to enjoy reading.

September 9, 2019