Originally published chapter by chapter in newspapers as part of the ""Breakfast Serials"" program, this disappointing story juggles an uneasy mix of realism and fantasy. Narrator Josh has just moved from Virginia to Vermont with his mother, her new husband and their infant son. During a snow day (forcing his school closing), Josh searches for his dog, Manch, and finds the pooch in a field playing--and laughing--with three canine pals (Manch tells the alpha dog, Ace, that they'll have to set some ground rules for play, and Ace responds, ""Well, it's always three to one. Twelve legs to four""). Josh then listens as they talk in human speech about the River Gang, a rival group of larger dogs headed up by a fierce weimaraner. Manch never speaks in human words to Josh again until Ace is badly hurt, hit by a snowplow while fighting with one of the enemy dogs. In a parallel plot, Josh copes with Wes, a bullying classmate and neighbor, whose help he eventually seeks out after making a futile attempt to shoot the weimaraner with his stepfather's rifle as the two dog packs fight. Paterson's (The Smallest Cow in the World) potentially intriguing premise of talking dogs isn't fully integrated into the tale, so it ends up calling attention to itself rather than moving the story forward. Though minimal and sometimes murky, McCully's (Mirette on the High Wire) black-and-white line art may well encourage reluctant readers, as will the book's brief chapters and the text's relatively large type size. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001 Release date: 03/01/2001 Genre: Children's
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