Thursday, December 5, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Pug & Doug by Steve Breen

It's Day 27 of our 30 Days of Picture Books. Tonight we're sharing a pick that we first read several months ago, but it was top on my mind when I started compiling a list of 30 Days candidates. The backstory to this one is that my sister and her family have a pug named Leon. He's absolutely adorable, but when Sprout first met Leon, he was truly terrified. He wasn't scared of any other dog, and in fact liked dogs quite a lot, just not the pug. I'm not sure what he thought that squishy little puppy was going to do to him, but he burst into tears every time poor Leon got anywhere near close.

So we embarked on a campaign of desensitization by exposing Sprout to anything pug-related. And I guess it's carried over, even though he now thinks Leon's very cute, because we still seek out pug-ish titles at the library. One of our best finds was the recent Pug & Doug by author/illustrator Steve Breen. This book had instant kid-appeal with its cover image of cheerful friends Pug and Doug bouncing and having fun. Breen uses watercolors to lend an easy feel to the images, which are interspersed with comic-style panels throughout, a nod to Breen's background as a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist.

The story is one of friendship and misunderstanding, something that's instantly relatable for most preschoolers. Pug and Doug are besties, with the same favorite likes and dislikes, and just enough individuality to keep things interesting. But then one day Doug discovers that Pug has thrown out a picture of the pair at the UFO convention. Doug's upset, and he goes to talk to his friend, only to discover that Pug is too busy to hang out. Things of course spiral from there, and Doug becomes convinced that Pug's completely over him. Is the friendship really over? Or does Pug have something else going on that's been taking him away from his best friend?

Breen intersperses plenty of humor in the story that adds to the overall charm of this book. The misunderstanding, for that's what it really is, is realistic and kids will emphathize with Doug's feelings even as they see why things were misinterpreted. I love the little eccentric touches that Breen includes, like the fact that the friends love UFOs and that they're both afraid of the same things (vampires, mummies -- and Chinese cresteds!). Best of all, there's a nice joke right at the end that Sprout really loves. He's fairly quivering until we turn the last page and see the punch line - well played, Mr. Breen!

For a light-hearted story of friendship, reconciliation and old doughnuts, Pug & Doug is an awesome choice. I'm very hopeful that we'll see more of this pair - like Frog and Toad, they have an easy rapport that seems destined for more adventure.

Pug & Doug by Steve Breen, published by Dial Books for Young Readers

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