Book Reviews: A Tale of Two Stinky Dogs

Our weekly book-hoarding-activities caused a deja vu double-take on Saturday.

Photo of the Walter the Farting Dog book with two interior pages depicting Walter flying across a living room by way of his fart and two burglars gagging at the odor.

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.

Photo of the book cover for Dog Breath depicting a smiling happy dog with green vapor pouring from his open mouth.

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.


8 Responses to “Book Reviews: A Tale of Two Stinky Dogs”

  1. Jenni says:

    I agree with you. I have never liked the illustrations in the Walter book and have felt that this book was written with one purpose: write a book that revolves around the word Fart. I’m all for the books that grasp children’s attention, but I think this one wasn’t the best.

    September 8th, 2008 at 9:27 am

  2. Jennifer says:

    Any book that even suggests that dumping a dog is a viable option is not permissable in my home. The underlying message is that animals are disposable. That goes against the biigest life lesson I am trying to instill in my son. I suggest getting some books from the following site:'s%20Books

    September 8th, 2008 at 11:11 am

  3. Rebekah says:

    I don’t think it matters which book has nicer graphics. The message of both stories teaches that animals are not a responsibility for keeps, “warts and all,” but rather disposable property that you dump when they are imperfect and unpleasant.

    Wouldn’t it be better if we taught our kids to love their pets unconditionally?

    September 8th, 2008 at 11:22 am

  4. AJ says:

    Families relocate pets for all sorts of legitimate reasons… allergies, economics, temperament with young children, and so forth. These stories take that reality and create a very unusual reason.

    I have a hard time imaging a child reading either book and walking away thinking pets are throwaway items. And, uh, let’s not forget that both families kept their stinky dogs. How do you teach a lesson without conflict? Good has no contextual meaning without evil.

    September 8th, 2008 at 11:55 am

  5. craftylildevil says:

    I have both of these books and I would have to agree that Dog Breath is much better. My 3 year old class, on the other hand LOVED Walter because they got to say “fart”. I love the message in Dog Breath and how the family chose to love Hally in spite of the stinky breath. I was also worried about scaring my kids with the mention of the burglars but so far it hasn’t caused any problems that I’m aware of.
    Speaking of dogs, has anyone heard the Howard Hanger Jazz Fantasy song called “Dog Breath”? Too cute! Goes along nicely with these stories.
    I wanna have dog breath!
    I wanna have fur on my face.
    I wanna have dog breath!
    Get petted all over the place.

    September 8th, 2008 at 1:58 pm

  6. Diana says:

    We love Dav Pilkey, but not for his Captain Underpants books… His Kat Kong and Dogzilla are a different art style from Dog Breath (we’ll have to check that one out), but we’ve always loved them for all the puns and parody. That’s “we” as in the grown-ups in this house who had been buying kids’ books for years before kids were ever in the picture– so that would be me.

    September 8th, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  7. Jennifer says:

    I love Dav Pilkey from WAY back – glad he won this hands-down in your family!

    As for whether families should keep animals unconditionally, well, no, I think the wellbeing of the family comes first. We gave up a cat due to allergies – it broke our hearts, but she couldn’t stay.

    And, of course, if an animal ever endangers any human, family or not, that animal is GONE. Farting, bad breath, well, can’t those be considered a form of *endangerment*??? :-)))

    (if you seriously believe it trivializes the responsibilities of pet ownership, use the book as a springboard for a REAL discussion with your kids…!)

    September 10th, 2008 at 1:12 pm

  8. Lisa says:

    Absolutley love, The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts by Shinta Cho !!

    September 11th, 2008 at 7:18 pm

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