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Dog Diaries: A Middle School Story

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Dog Diaries: A Middle School Story Book Poster Image
Rafe's dog tells bouncy tale in Middle School spin-off.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Junior's dog's-eye view of the world is often hilariously wrong about what's going on and how to deal with it. Young readers/read-aloud listeners have plenty of chances to predict what's actually going to happen vs. what Junior thinks is going to happen. Along the way, kids get a chance to learn a bit about dog training classes and why they might be a good idea.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about friendship, loyalty, hard work and practice to learn new things, and learning from your mistakes -- though young readers may learn more from Junior's mistakes than he does sometimes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Junior thinks he's a much better dog than he actually is, as not everyone appreciates his creative approach to interacting with the world (or his determination to save everyone from raccoons, real or imaginary). He has a lot in common with his "pet," Ruff (better known as Rafe from the Middle School books) -- who has to step up, be responsible, and teach his misbehaving pooch better ways, or else.  Junior's dog friends are loyal and supportive -- they've all looked out for one another since their days in the pound: "If we ever escape, we'll always watch out for our pack," they vow.

Violence & Scariness

As a result of a misdeed, Junior is threatened with being taken from his family and sent back to the pound -- which is portrayed here as a dark, depressing, but not actually lethal place.

Language

Pee, poop, butt-sniffing and bathroom humor on practically every page -- after all, the narrator's a dog -- which is going to be hilarious to kids of a certain age and a bit eye-rolling after a while to others. Still, once Junior describes the bathroom as "the rainy poop room," you may never see it quite the same.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dog Diaries is the first book in a spin-off series for younger readers featuring the characters in James Patterson's best-selling Middle School series -- as seen through the eyes of that series' hero Rafe's dog, Junior. Since the narrator is a dog, there's something about pee, poop, and/or butt-sniffing on practically every page, which will amuse some readers and eventually get old to others. Richard Watson's lively, plentiful, cartoonish illustrations (one of which features Junior peeing on Rafe to get his attention) add a lot to the fun. Amid the craziness, and trying to dodge and/or placate random authority figures, there are strong messages of friendship, loyalty, and trying to learn from your mistakes.

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What's the story?

In DOG DIARIES, the life of bouncy Junior the dog takes sudden turn for the better when he's sprung from the dank shelter and adopted by the Khatchadorian (or, as Junior hears it, Catch-a-Doggy-Bone) family of Middle School fame. His new "pet," Ruff (better known to Middle School series readers as Rafe), is the best thing that ever happened to a dog. And things only get better when they get to the dog park, where Junior reunites with all his shelter buds who were adopted before him. But just when things couldn't be more perfect, Junior's misguided obsession with raccoons leads to trouble, and a uniformed dog-trainer lady (who just happens to be the niece of Rafe's arch-enemy the principal) threatens to have him seized and sent back to the pound. Now what?

Is it any good?

Younger readers meet the Middle School world in this new series, narrated by the excitable, trouble-prone dog of Rafe Khatchadorian, aka Ruff Catch-a-Doggy Bone. Dog Diaries has bathroom humor aplenty and silliness galore as Junior shares his joy with a world that doesn't always appreciate it. Junior has many struggles as poor Rafe tries to keep him out of trouble. But as the series gets under way, it's clear the two of them are meant for each other:

"Before I knew it, Ruff was down on the ground and I was planting as many slobbery licks on his cheek as I could. He smelled like junk food and broken rules, and his face tasted like mischief. I loved all of it."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about teh dog narrator of Dog Diaries. Why do you think an author might decide to tell a story this way? Can you think of other stories told by dogs or other animals?

  • Junior has silly-sounding names for many things in his world -- but they make perfect sense from a dog's point of view. What might a dog call some of the people, things, and places in your life?

  • Have you ever done something you thought was a really good idea (like Junior chasing raccoons) and had it not turn out so well? What did you do? What happened?

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