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Lowrey, Janette Sebring. 1942. THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY. Ill. Gustaf Tenggen. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780307021342
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Five little puppies dig a hole under the fence and venture out into the wide, wide world. Four puppies admire the view, but where is that little poky puppy? He’s stopped because he smells rice pudding and off the puppies rush for dessert. The naughty puppies are sent to bed without supper, while the poky little puppy wanders in late and licks up every last bit of pudding. The pattern is repeated with chocolate custard and finally strawberry shortcake. However, on the strawberry shortcake day the poky little puppy’s sibling get even by filling in the hole after they scramble through. Their mother rewards their good behavior with dessert, but the puppy that was slow and had to dig under the fence on his own, is sent to bed hungry and ashamed.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
This classic Golden Book, first published in 1942, has remained popular despite a somewhat bland plot and generic illustrations. The puppies are adorable, but indistinguishable from one another and although their faces are sweet, they don’t express emotions or deeper meaning than described in the text. In addition, sometimes the illustrations and text are contradictory. For instance, there is a picture of a green toad accompanying the text, “The only thing they could see coming up was a brown hop-toad.”
On the bright side, the story sets up a pattern that makes it easy for young children to follow the story. The repetition of text makes this an inviting book for children just learning to read. The text is mainly descriptive and many people fondly remember the way the puppies tumbled down the hill, “roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble…”
The book has two major themes. First, that there are consequences to breaking the rules and second, that you will miss out on life if you are poky. Although it’s never too early to learn that your actions have consequences, modern parents may have difficultly labeling puppies or children “poky.” In addition, the story does not model a very supportive sibling relationship, with the four “normal” puppies ganging up on the little poky puppy.
The Poky Little Puppy continues to be one of the bestselling children’s books of all time and I think one of the reasons this story has remained so popular is that the characters and settings are not especially specific, and so have aged without become clichéd or stereotypical. Regardless of its shortcomings, this book will appeal to puppy-loving children and many parents who remember this book from their childhood.
As someone who didn’t grow up reading this book, it was a struggle for me to write this review. I really wanted to like the book – the poky little puppy resembles the dog I grew up with – however I was rubbed the wrong by the moral of the story. I don’t feel comfortable labeling children and am inclined to celebrate the benefits of being “poky” rather than dwell on the negative connotations. Kids who take their time are often more observant and introspective than their faster paced peers; I don’t think being faster or slower is necessarily better.
Finally, it bothers me that their mother never explains to the puppies why it’s so bad to go out into the wide, wide world, she just punishes them. I have always found that explaining the reason for a rule is more effective with children and adults then doling out a punishment just “because.”
4. AWARDS AND REVIEW EXCERPTS
Publisher’s Weekly All Time Best Selling Children’s Book, #1 in 2001
Horn Book Guide Reviews, Fall 2003
Barbara Carroll Roberts of CHILDREN’S LITERATURE REVIEW: “The illustrations are equally bland; these are generic puppies with little expression, rather that individualized characters.”
*Talk about the ways the puppies use their 5 senses. What do they see/smell/hear/taste/touch?
*Crafts – Make dog-ear headbands for the kids to wear.
*Count the puppies in the illustrations each time they get to the top of the hill.
*Other picture books with dogs about counting:
Boynton, Sandra. DOGGIES: A COUNTING AND BARKING BOOK. ISBN 9780671493189
Chall, Marsha. ONE PUP’S UP. ISBN 9781416979609
Dodd, Emma. DOG’S COLORFUL DAY: A MESSY STORY ABOUT COLORS AND COUNTING. ISBN 9780142500194