cover image Smart Dog

Smart Dog

Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201847-4

F-32 (or Sherlock, as he comes to be named) is a ""smart dog"" indeed--he has escaped from a university research lab where a scientific experiment has endowed him with speech and all sorts of other signs of intelligence. Unfortunately, the experiment is scheduled to end in the dissection of his brain; fortunately, Sherlock stumbles upon Amy, a painfully unpopular fifth-grader who is only too happy to help him. As she concocts a series of plans to keep him safe, Amy finds herself growing in confidence and courage. Although the supporting characters are familiar types (the smart nerd with the heart of gold, the mean-spirited popular girl, the evil vivisectionist), the enduring fantasy of a talking pet is rendered with an abundance of charm and wit. Sherlock is endearingly doggy and his academic abilities are humorously limited. For example, he can work a computer (he likes the games), but he gums up the keyboard by typing with a pencil eraser. As he and Amy try to figure out a solution to his problems, he asks her, ""Do you want to scratch my belly while you're thinking?"" His attempts to replicate the behavior of regular dogs will have readers giggling. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)