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Dog Days of August

Dog days of summer getting to you?

You know what they say: Every dog has its day. But come the last sultry weeks of summertime, seems like the canine species gets more than a month! These four to six weeks from late July through all of August and into early September have been known as "The Dog Days" since antiquity. The early Greeks and Romans blamed summer's hottest stretch on the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, that for more than a month would rise and shine with the sun-and, they thought, intensify the sun's heat. So bright that it was visible in the daytime sky, the ancients considered Sirius (from the ancient Greek for "scorching") to be a beacon of the changing seasons and a predictor the future-not to mention the cause of many a maladies.

Not that the ancients were barking up the wrong tree, but nowadays Sirius rises in the fall and winter. Yet, the term "dog days of summer" has stuck like a sweaty T-shirt against hot leather bucket seats. Only now it has more to do with that all-too-familiar 98-in-the-shade daze or how kids start hangdogging during the last weeks of summer vacation as back-to-school dread begins to gnaw at them like a teething puppy in a furniture shop. But letting those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer get the best of you is like the tail waggin the dog. In our dogged pursuit of excellence in children's entertainment and educational products, we've dug up a few titles that are a breed apart in engaging young minds-even during these doldrum days of August. So, it's not too late to let summer go to the dogs. Just make sure it's the top dogs like these below.

-Ann and Don Oldenburg
Parents Choice reviewers and the authors of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lover's Companion" (Foghorn Press), a guidebook of places to go and things to do with your pooch-from the doggy perspective!

Movies

Growing Up with CliffordGrowing Up with Clifford
Ages 2 - 5 yrs.
Lionsgate Entertainment, $14.98 (DVD)

In these eight episodes, the loveable Clifford takes on the big-kid issues of growing up. Clifford and his friends overcome their fears of getting bigger, imagine what they’ll be when they grow up, and go on adventures that gently teach them about the responsibilities of adults. Our young testers, especially those nearing a birthday, responded happily to the “lessons.” Parents applauded the DVD’s success in delivering the messages in a clearly defined theme, and connection from one episode to another. Neither forced, nor preachy, just Clifford at his best.

Bark George ... and More Doggie Tales
Ages 3 - 9 yrs.
Scholastic Entertainment, $14.95 (DVD)

The animated version of the tail, er, tale, features all the askew humor and eccentric drawings of its creator, the legendary Jules Feiffer. Narrated by the biggest kid alive, John Lithgow, the story scratches out a theme of individuality as George, the young dog of the title, wants to make every animal sound except a bark. The resolution is ridiculously funny and makes the video worth viewing just for that. However, the DVD presents two other canine stories and three bonus tales. The DVD is certainly for dog lovers, particularly those with a sense of wonder and humor.

A Dog of Flanders
Ages 6 - 12 yrs.
Warner Home Video, $19.98

A remake of the original movie made in 1914, the story is about a poor farm boy named Nello who comes across a near-dead dog in the woods. He nurses the dog back to health and overtime to two become inseparable. As their friendship grow, Nello begins pursuing his dream of becoming an artist.

My Dog SkipMy Dog Skip
Ages 8 - 14 yrs.
Warner Home Video, $22.96

Set in the 1940's during World War II, this is a heart-warming story about nine-year-old Willie Morris, played by Malcolm In the Middle's Frankie Muniz, who is left alone when his only friend goes off to war. To ease the void, his parents get him a dog named Skip. Willie and Skip forge a strong and lasting bond, the kind the words "a boy and his dog" have always meant in the deepest sense.

Walt Disney Treasures Wave 4: The Complete Pluto
Ages: 12 & Up
Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $32.99

This is an impressive collection of cartoons. Viewers witness the trajectory of Pluto's development from a prison bloodhound used to track down escaped convicts in "The Chain Gang," to the loveable dog everyone has come to know. Several cartoons focus upon family and the interaction of parents and siblings. The cartoons are also interesting historical documents and offer tangible insight to wartime America. The bonus material, while not as extensive as that found on other disks, does have features that children and adults should both enjoy, especially "The Life and Times of Pluto," and the excerpt from "A Story of Dogs."


Books

A Day, A Dog
All Ages
By Gabrielle Vincent
Front Street, $16.95

This astonishing wordless picture book tells the heart-rending story of an abandoned dog. In remarkable black-and-white pencil drawings, the artist shows us the dog being heedlessly thrown out of a car, chasing after it fruitlessly and giving up, at last, unwittingly causing a major highway accident. Older children and adults in large numbers will be caught up in this powerful documentary in picture-book form.

Three More Stories You Can Read to Your DogThree More Stories You Can Read to the Dog
All Ages
By Sara Swan Miller
Houghton Mifflin Co., $14.00

Any child who has a dog member of the family, as well as those who wish they had one, will enjoy these canine adventures from daily life: going to the vet, longing for a friend to play with, and being strong-armed into taking a bath. It won't take a young human listener long to notice the resemblances to his or her own daily-life adventures.


Lassie Come-Home

All Ages
By Rosemary Wells, Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers, $16.95

An unorthodox picture-book text, to be sure, but this sensitive rendition of Eric Knight's 1938 classic about the much-loved collie that refuses to be separated from her young master is sure to win a large, latter-day audience of younger listener/viewers. The book's uplifting message that - just occasionally - love does conquer all is yet another plus.

Sally Goes to the Beach
Ages 2 - 4 yrs.
By Stephen Huneck
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., $17.95

This handsome, oversized book, illustrated by bold color woodcuts, gives youngest listener/viewers a dog's-eye view of a summer vacation at the beach. Sally, a black Labrador, takes a first timer's enthusiastic delight in the sights, sounds and sensations of a day in the sun, sea and sand.

That New AnimalThat New Animal
Ages: 3 - 6 yrs.
Author: Emily Jenkins    Illustrator: Pierre Pratt
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.00

FudgeFudge, the small black dog, and Marshmallow, his little white companion, heartily dislike the new animal at their house. No one has thrown a stick or a ball in a long time. When they make complaining sounds, they are scolded, but when the new animal cries, it is cuddled and kissed. FudgeFudge plots various ways to rid themselves of the new animal, but Marshmallow always nixes the plans. One day, however, another animal called "Grandpa" arrives and tries to pick up the new animal. The two dogs think this is a very bad idea and bark until he sits on the other side of the room. After all, it's their new animal.

Kipper and Roly
Ages: 3 - 7 yrs.
By: Mick Inkpen
Harcourt, Inc./ Red Wagon, $13.95 (Hardcover)

Pig wants a pet for his birthday and says so in his party invitation. He'd like any kind of animal-- a rabbit, a mouse, a gerbil. Pig's friend, Kipper, chooses for his gift a clever hamster who can do tricks. But as Pig's party nears, Kipper grows attached to the hamster, now named Roly. He wants to keep him, but in spite of himself he does bring Roly to Pig's party. The birthday host now has everything he wanted -- a rabbit, two guinea pigs, a mouse, and a stick insect. Pig accepts Roly but sensitively asks Kipper to take care of the hamster for him. Oh, happy day! Youngsters will enjoy the book and the fortuitous generosity that allows Kipper to keep Roly. Inkpen's illustrations are attractive, his characters as appealing in the book as they are on Nick Jr.

Hondo & FabianHondo & Fabian
Ages 3 - 9 yrs.
By Peter McCarty
Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers, $16.95

Hondo, an ingratiating dog, and Fabian, a laid-back cat, are friends. No adult who ever loved a dog-- or cat-- is likely to pass this duo by: they are irresistible. Nothing world shaking happens to them: Hondo goes to the beach with Fred, a canine pal; Fabian stays at home where he's harassed by a child but then has solitary fun unrolling the toilet paper. But it is the masterful illustrations that are truly a treat in this book.

My Dog Never Says PleaseMy Dog Never Says Please
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Suzanne Williams    Illustrator: Tedd Arnold
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers/Puffin Books, $5.99 (Paperback)

As far as Ginny Mae is concerned, her dog - Ol' Red - has got it made. He eats with his mouth open ... and doesn't get yelled at. He runs around barefoot ... and doesn't get yelled at. He leaves his stuff wherever he wants ... and doesn't get yelled at. And he never, ever has to say please. So one day, Ginny Mae decides to join him. And what follows is a hilarious take on a dog's life--from a little girl's point of view.

Sally Goes to the Mountains
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Stephen Huneck
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., $17.95

Join Sally, our curious black Labrador, on her first camping trip to the mountains.

The Adventures of Taxi Dog
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Debra Barracca    Illustrator: Mark Buehner
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers/Puffin Books, $5.99 (Paperback)

A stray dog in New York City is adopted by a taxi driver, with whom he thereafter rides and shares adventures each day.

Dog Tales
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Jennifer Rae
Tricycle Press, $14.95

These re-tellings of classic fairy tales with a doggy twist are great fun. Some favorites include Jack Russell and the Beanstalk, Cindersmelly, and Rapawnzul, the star of the story, has very long ears. Jennifer Rae's tales are great fun and Rose Cowles' dressed-up dog illustrations fit the whimsy just right.

The Great PoochiniThe Great Poochini
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Gary Clement
Groundwood Books, $15.95

By day, he's Jack, a regular dog who lives in the city. By night, he's Signor Poochini, the great canine lyric opera singer. Tonight is the premiere of Dog Giovanni and he will be singing, until he realizes his usual escape route-the window-is locked! Writer and illustrator Gary Clement offers a sophisticated setting for a pun-filled, fun-filled tale.

Sidney Won't Swim
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Hilde Schuurmans
Charlesbridge, $15.95

Terrified by his teacher's announcement "Don't forget to bring your swimsuits. Tomorrow is your first swimming lesson!", Sidney proclaims angrily that "Swimming is the dumbest thing in the world." When he fails in all his attempts to avoid the lesson, his understanding swimming teacher allows him to watch from the edge of the pool. Any child who has been in Sidney's predicament--being scared and being afraid to admit it--will be riveted by his ordeal and its happy denouement.

The Stray DogThe Stray Dog
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Marc Simont
Harper Collins Childrens Books, $15.95

As winsome and irresistible a dog to find his way into a picture book in recent memory, Willy is rescued in the nick of time from the dog warden by as sympathetic and deserving a family as a listener/reader might hope for. The prize winning illustrator of almost 100 picture books in his long and distinguished career, Simont has lost none of his freshness or charm. His ink and watercolor drawings are a sheer delight.

Martha Blah BlahMartha Blah Blah
Ages 4 - 8 yrs.
By Susan Meddaugh
Houghton Mifflin Children's Books, $14.95

Meddaugh's exuberant, comic illustrations of Martha, a family dog who happens to learn how to talk from eating her favorite dish, "Granny's Alphabet Soup," are just garden variety genius. Instead of barking or whining, Martha orders steak for dinner in plain English. Everything's fine until the new owner of the soup company cuts costs by leaving out a few letters, and Martha, after eating her defective soup, manages only gibberish - that is, until she discovers a way to get the missing letters back into every can.

The Dog Who Sang at the OperaThe Dog Who Sang at the Opera
Ages: 5 - 9 yrs.
Author: Jim West and Marshall Izen    Illustrator: Erika Oller
Harry N. Abrams, Inc. / Abrams Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (Hardcover)

A glamorous dog performing an aria at New York's famed Metropolitan Opera House seems fanciful premise for a children's story - except, it really did happen. In September 1997, soprano Renée Fleming was, much to her dismay, accompanied by the howling of a Russian wolfhound while attempting to sing a demanding section of the opera Manon. The dog was removed, but not before delighting audiences and attracting the attention of media nationwide. Years later, two men who worked as opera puppeteers that night turned the incident into this sweet and funny book, told from the perspective of the elegant wolfhound, Miss Pasha. Erika Oller's colorful illustrations highlight the humor in the situation, and the inclusion of both New York Times coverage of the opera and Renee Fleming's reaction to her impromptu duet complement.

Because of Winn-Dixie
Ages 8 & Up
By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, $15.99


Although she lives in the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, ten-year-old Opal has no friends. She and her preacher father have moved to Naomi Florida for her father’s new job. Here, on an errand to the local grocery store, Opal acquires a unique friend, a large brown stray that she names for the store Winn-Dixie. A totally lovable dog and likable characters are part of this humorously gentle, warm, enthralling story about all sorts of friendships.

A Dog's Life
Ages: 9 - 12 yrs.
Author: Ann M. Martin
Publisher: Scholastic Inc./Scholastic Press, $16.99

Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone's summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals, and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process, makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.

The Canine ConnectionThe Canine Connection: Stories About Dogs and People
Ages 10 - 14 yrs.
By Betsy Hearne
Simon & Schuster Children's/Margaret K. McElderry, $15.95

A car thief makes the mistake of choosing a vintage Mercedes - left running - in the parking lot of a mall. Unbeknownst to the thief, the car is occupied by Clara's two dogs and her old grandmother. In twelve short stories, the author writes with insight into dogs and their sometimes worthy and sometimes not, human companions. The parts the dogs play in the lives of their people are touching (literally), comforting, and frequently amazing.

Zulu Dog
Ages 10 - 15 yrs.
By Anton Ferreira
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.00

Gillette, named for his razor-sharp teeth, is a bush dog. Losing his entire family plus his leg to a leopard, he becomes the beloved, hidden pet of an eleven-year-old Zulu. Vusi is determined to train Gillette to be a hunting dog despite the dog's handicap. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the training of the Zulu dog, and the relationship of the children help to enlighten others during a frightening climax. Despite the realistically presented problems of South Africa, the story is exciting and hopeful.

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam
Ages: 10 & Up
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.99

Cracker is one of the United States Army's most valuable weapons: a German shepherd trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy. Rick Hanski is headed to Vietnam. There, he's going to whip the world and prove to his family and his sergeant -- and everyone else who didn't think he was cut out for war -- wrong. When Cracker is paired with Rick, she isn't so sure about this new owner. They need to be friends before they can be a team, and they have to be a team if they want to get home alive. Told in part through the uncanny point of view of a German shepherd, Cracker! is an action-packed glimpse into the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a dog and her handler. Book Description

 

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