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Elvis and the Underdogs



Lighthearted story of sickly kid helped by huge talking dog.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Elvis and the Underdogs is more a sweet, funny, heartfelt tale than an educational tome. But academic achievers are presented in a positive fashion, and readers will learn a bit about various medical conditions, the training of service dogs, and other interesting information.

Positive messages

Positive messages about family love, friendship, and empathy, as well as finding your own pack and the life-changing benefits of doing so.

Positive role models

Benji is notable for making the best of a bad situation and not letting his disabilities ruin his life, an issue that comes up with other characters as well. Snarky, loyal, wise Elvis is both devoted dog and wise counselor. Resourceful Taisy and brilliant, geeky Alexander are good friends with excellent problem-solving skills. The adult characters, including the parents and hospital personnel, are all a bit comically flawed, but unswerving in their concern for the kids.

Violence & scariness

The school bully makes life miserable for Benji, who lives in fear of having his head stuffed in a toilet and other forms of assault.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Elvis and the Underdogs is a great story about Benji, a sickly, friendless 10-year-old, acquiring both friends and adventures thanks to a 200-pound Newfoundland named Elvis, who's supposed to be the presidential dog but mistakenly ends up as Benji's service dog. It includes scary moments, from run-ins with school bullies to near-death due to a severe allergic reaction, and features occasional references to butts, farts, and dog pee and poop. Kids -- especially those with handicaps or chronic health issues -- will appreciate Benji's tribulations and triumphs.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Born premature, 10-year-old Benji is sickly and friendless, with chronic health issues that land him in the hospital so often he's pals with Dino the nurse. After a seizure at school causes a head injury, his doctors suggest a service dog -- but no one expects the 200-pound Newfoundland who arrives. Parker Elvis Pembroke IV is full of surprises, from his bossy nature to the fact that he talks, at least to Benji, who soon learns that Elvis was supposed to go the White House as the presidential dog, not be the service dog to a 10-year-old. But Elvis takes his job seriously, and before long he manages to not only save Benji's life but help him find his own pack.

Is it any good?


Warm and lighthearted, this tale is insightful in its portrayal of tween kids coping with real-life challenges, from parental pressure to dodging the school bully (who has a surprise or two himself). There are lots of appealing characters, from Benji's new friends Taisy and Alexander to the various adults in their lives, and they all learn a few things thanks to the influence of Elvis.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories about friendship between kids and dogs are so popular. How does Elvis compare with other dogs you've read about, or met in real life?

  • Do you agree with Elvis's advice that Benji should not trust Billy, even though the bully seems to have turned over a new leaf? Why or why not?

  • Do you know kids who have health or other issues and get picked on in school? Does reading this story give you more empathy for them?

Book details

Author:Jenny Lee
Illustrator:Kelly Light
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Cats, dogs, and mice, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:May 14, 2013
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Kid, 11 years old January 11, 2016
This is a very enjoyable book about a boy who is suffering Idiopathic Epilepsy.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Too much violence


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