[alert variation=”alert-info”]Publisher: Scholastic Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Kindle
Purchase: Powell’s | Amazon | IndieBound | iBooks[/alert]

In this book for 8- to 12-year-old kids, Jimmy lives in a world where his mom is away at work every day, his father is always off job-hunting, his bossy older sister gives him fits, and at least one of the baby-sitters he has to cope with is a bit weird. What Jimmy wants is a dog to befriend, to keep him company, and to relate to. For a long while, it’s not on. Then, one afternoon, his father tell him it is time, and Jimmy (who narrates the whole story) tells us how he got a strange little dog called Abby – how it all started, that is.

“When I walked in to the Northport Animal Rescue Foundation (otherwise known as Northport ARF!), dogs and cats of all shapes and sizes tried to get my attention. It was like a kickball game and I was the captain, and they were all yelling, ‘Pick Me! Pick Me!” But it wasn’t a kickball game. It was real life, and they all wanted me to take them home so they could feel safe and warm and loved.”

Back in a corner cage they found “a scruffy little dog” who looked like “a combination of a thousand different breeds” with spots and stripes, and different colored eyes and different shaped ears and “a big black streak of fur right down his back, almost like a cape” wearing the “cutest, saddest face I’d ever seen.”

“In other words,” Jimmy concludes, “he was awesome.”

It was love at first sight, and when they left the animal shelter they took that awesome critter home, and named him Abby. And it is soon clear that Abby is not only scruffy and awesome, but over-the-top bright.

And so it begins, a kid’s dog story that gradually works its way up into a rollicking good mystery. And along the way, somewhere vaguely in the background (at least in Jimmy’s mind), there’s a vampire. Kids’ books these days seem, all seem to have a vampire. (Personally, this reviewer couldn’t find a vampire in this story, but that’s alright. Jimmy knows where it is… somewhere; maybe it’s Abby!)

What’s really good about this book is how the boy and the dog bond, and what they teach each other about life, and how the overly smart mutt solves a seriously strange mystery.

Along the way, various facts of wisdom and common sense for growing are embedded in the story. For example, after they had visited the animal shelter ‒ FACT: If you consider yourself not that popular of a person, go to an animal shelter. You will feel really popular, really fast.

And, after having eaten something vile that a concerned baby-sitter fixed for Jimmy ‒ FACT: Nothing good for you tastes good. Everybody knows that. Whatever she served him tasted vile, and no matter how hard Jimmy tried to get the taste of it out of his mouth ‒ FACT: Toothpaste is no match for garlic and kelp.

This is the sort of book, written for pre-teens, that is recommended for the boy who shows little interest in reading. Once he gets into this story, he’ll likely be hooked on books for life. It’s a good read.

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