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Waggit Again

May 9, 2009

Waggit Again
Peter Howe
Harper Collins
April 2009
304 pages
Children’s Literature, Ages 9-12

After I reviewed Waggit’s Tale for the Star-Ledger’s round-up of children’s literature,  I was delighted to learn that Peter Howe planned to continue Waggit’s story.    Like the first volume, Waggit Again is a fast, fun read, full of adventure, honest emotions and strong characters.

Although the ending of Waggit’s Tale suggests that the small white dog has found perfect happiness with a devoted owner, the opening pages of Waggit Again find Waggit desolate.  Abandoned by his owner, chained in a farmyard full of hostile dogs, Waggit is miserably homesick for his pack of stray dogs in the park.  When he manages to escape and begin his journey home, he swears he will never trust Uprights (humans) again.

Enter Felicia, a woman with the gift of speaking to animals.  Although wary, Waggit knows he needs her help to make the journey back to the park.  And anyway, with her gift, she’s practically a canine herself.  Along with Lug, the cowardly pit bull, they make their way back towards Manhattan’s Central Park, home of Tazar’s loyal band of stray dogs.  Readers will be delighted to return to the aging Lowdown, motherly Lady Magica, rambunctious Little One and Little Two, and of course, Tazar,the leader.  Omar Rayyan’s black and white drawings shape the dogs’ escapades with wonderful skill and whimsy.

It makes sense to read Waggit’s Tale first, both because of the number of recurring characters, but because of the finely crafted dog customs and idioms Howe has created for his world.   Humans are Uprights, cops are Ruzelas, and squirrels are scurries.  Having Felicia as a human newcomer allows for a bit of a refresher of Howe’s world, but the first volume creates a better picture.

As before, I’m particularly impressed with the detail Howe crafts for his canine culture, and into each individual dog’s personality.  Time for full disclosure:  I’m ordinarily extremely skeptical of books with talking animals.  Everything from Watership Down to Animal Farm to Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books has felt jarring to me- either false and cloying, or somehow sinister to have the animals talk.  But here- Howe gives the dogs accessible emotions, without making them feel like people dressed up in dog suits.  There’s both authenticity and gentleness in Howe’s prose and characterizations.  It worked for me.

As far as actual kids reading this, 9-12 seems pretty on target.  There are a couple tense scenes, of the dogs fighting each other, or of human violence towards animals.  So there may be some sniffling or the need for a hug during some chapters, but this could work for independent readers, or to be read aloud over several nights.

Thanks to Peter and Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review.


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