Monday, September 8th, 2008
Book Reviews: A Tale of Two Stinky Dogs
Our weekly book-hoarding-activities caused a deja vu double-take on Saturday.
First, we picked up a picture book we knew by reputation, Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray. It’s a New York Times bestseller.
The plot is simple enough. Walter is adopted from a pound, but he stinks due to his incessant farting. Dad tries everything to curb the farts, taking Walter to the vet and trying a variety of diets.
Finally, to the dismay of his two children, Dad declares Walter will be returned to the pound tomorrow morning. That night, two burglars ransack the home, but flee empty-handed after Walter gasses the crooks. And thus, Dad relents and Walter wins his place in the family.
Second, we picked up Dog Breath: The Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis by Dav Pilkey. You may know Pilkey from his 10-book-and-counting baby superhero series, Captain Underpants. Dog Breath is just one book and wasn’t a New York Times bestseller.
The plot is simple enough. Hally lives with the Tosis family. Bad things happen when poor Hally opens his mouth and unleashes his goldfish-killing tree-deleafing horrible breath.
Finally, the parents begin looking for a new owner for Hally while their two children try a range of remedies to fix Hally’s stench. Then one night, two burglars ransack the family home. The burglars decide to pet the cute little pooch and Hally inadvertently knocks them out cold on the living room floor with a simple lick. Hally’s crime fighting hits the newspapers and his place in the family is assured.
Which came first?
Dog Breath was first published in 1994. Walter was first published in 2001. And yet, my Walter book cover includes this claim: "The ORIGINAL Walter the Farting Dog." Yeah, okay, but it’s apparently not the first stinky-dog-thwarts-burglars book.
Which is better?
Walter clearly has better marketing. Just the word "farting" in the title is bound to sell copies. Every page does an excellent job of showing a clearly defined stream of fart vapor shooting from the dog’s butt. His farting is so successful he has parlayed it into at least five books and a plush toy.
But, whoo, we dislike Walter. The book’s images are a mix of computer-generated and digitally modified photographs that are at best "artsy" and at worst "weird."
For our 4-year-old daughter, the images are simply too visually busy with an odd mix of detailed and simplistic objects in every scene. We won’t be keeping the book.
Meanwhile, Dog Breath is the opposite. The drawings are traditionally cartoonish, friendly and easy to follow. The book jacket states the illustrations were made using acrylics, watercolors, pencils, Magic Markers and Dijon mustard. But for being mixed-media, I wouldn’t have known because the imagery is cohesive.
The dialogue is surprisingly sophisticated with multiple puns. When the kids in the story attempt to fix Hally’s breath, they walk him to see a "breath taking view," take him to a movie that will leave him "breathless," and so forth. The word play required some explanation for our daughter, but the basic premise hit home.
I didn’t care for the burglars in each story for the simple fact that I had to introduce to my daughter the notion that she might not be perfectly safe when she goes to sleep at night. It hasn’t caused problems though.
On the plus side, both stories convey the idea that a being can have negative traits and still be loved, but Walter strikes me as a gag book built around the word "fart." Dog Breath is also built around a gag premise, but my mind doesn’t go numb reading it. My daughter can enjoy the WORDS of the story now and appreciate them more as she gets older.
Walter fans should feel free to tell me how wrong I am. As for everyone else, tell us about your favorite bodily noise or excrement book.