cover image Stick Dog

Stick Dog

Tom Watson, illus. by Ethan Long. Harper, $12.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-211078-7

“I Can’t Draw, Okay?” is the name of the first chapter of this heavily illustrated reader from Watson, who’s previously published two e-books starring the eponymous dog. Watson illustrated those earlier tales, but Long (Pig Has a Plan) does the “bad” drawing in this iteration, contributing exuberant stick-figure cartoons that riff on and clean up Watson’s earlier designs. It’s a treat to see how Long transforms two rectangles, some googly eyes, and a few lines into spot-on evocations of endearingly goofy dog behavior. Unfortunately, the new images also throw light on the book’s weaknesses: overworked prose, weak characterizations, forced jokes, and a woolly narrative about five stray dogs that catch the scent of a cookout and head off in search of its source. Watson tries to be ironic and irreverent in his humor, claiming his story will be “told in a way I like (but my English teacher doesn’t)” and naming one of Stick Dog’s canine friends Poo-Poo (he’s a poodle). But readers may quickly start flipping ahead, looking for storytelling traction or differentiation among the characters. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)