Tuesday, November 13

Dodsworth in New York


by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin 2007

I don't remember the last time I reviewed a beginning reader, if at all. I know I passed on Mo Williams' recent Pig and Elephant series because (prepare to throw rocks and tomatoes) I just wasn't bowled over by them. They weren't bad, they just didn't go anywhere for me.

But the other day I noticed this title and, I don't know, something about it caught me. Perhaps there's something vaguely New Yorker-ish about the design, or the fact that it's a beginning reader that features New York in the title. It had a handsome, sophisticated look about it. Say what you will about judging books by their covers, if they weren't meant to be judged that way they wouldn't spend so much time and energy designing them.

Dodsworth appears to be a mole-like creature. It doesn't say, it doesn't really matter. He's off on an adventure to see the world. First stop, though, is his friend Hodges the Elephant's cafe for the best pancakes ever. Unfortunately Dodsworth is met by "that crazy duck" which seems to be Hodges' pet. (A moment to consider all the animals who have other animals as pets and ask "What's up with that?") Duck appears to be somewhat of a loon, a bit of a trickster character. He's chased off and after a hearty breakfast Dodsworth is off, next stop New York.

Do I have point out that, unseen until he gets there, that crazy duck has stowed himself away in Dodsworth's luggage?

Dodsworth is hounded by the duck all over New York. He tries to send the duck back to Hodges but the duck appears everywhere Dodsworth goes. "There's that crazy duck again!" kids might well be saying every time they see a duck in the pictures. But is it the same duck, or does Dodsworth simply have duck on the brain? At last Dodsworth catches the duck but in securing him for a voyage home they inadvertently find themselves on a steamer to Paris. Dodsworth calls Hodges to let him know that it might be a while before his duck is returned, to which his elephant friend apologizes for the duck ruining his adventure. Au contraire! "He was the adventure!" Dodsworth admits.

Yes, all of that from a beginning reader in simple language, begging to become a series on par with Frog and Toad and Little Bear et al. Perhaps not quite for a Level 1 or 2 reader, but certainly not far behind.
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