cover image The Return of Rex and Ethel

The Return of Rex and Ethel

Arnold Adoff. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-266367-4

Next-door neighbors Pepper and Belle have been best friends ""all of their long-legged lives""; their dogs Rex and Ethel have also been friends ""all of their short-legged lives."" But when both Rex and Ethel succumb to old age on the same summer day, the grieving girls become more aware of other animals that have been killed, injured or abandoned. The girls soon rally family members and neighbors to help transform Rex and Ethel's doghouses into ""The Rex and Ethel Memorial Rest Stop,"" a haven for all creatures in need. Adoff's (Love Letters) precious-sounding text seems both glossy and un-childlike--and also unrealistic: it's unlikely both dogs would die at the same moment; the girls seem to be only fleetingly upset; and predators and prey coexist peaceably in the animal refuge. The use of ""shaped speech""--a device that typically succeeds to great effect in Adoff's poetry collections--here interrupts the story's pacing and makes the text look self-important. Deeter's (To Hell with Dying) scenes are dominated by a Candy-Land-bright palette, but subtler renderings of Rex and Ethel and other animals in natural, outdoor settings prove more inviting. Her rather jarring images of blue dog ""spirits"" that hover near Belle and Pepper will invite questions about life after death, but on balance, this book misses the mark. Ages 6-9. (Apr.)