cover image BEWARE OF DOG


Bob Balaban, . . Scholastic/Apple, $4.99 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-439-40137-1

Film producer, director and actor Balaban launches the McGrowl series with this faltering farce introducing fifth-grader Thomas and his "best and only friend," Violet. Just after his birthday, on which Thomas once again fails to receive the one present he wants—a dog—he and Violet find a stray as they walk home during a thunder and lightning storm. The dog escorts the children through blinding rain ("barking furiously, keeping them together and trying to move them forward as if they were an errant flock of sheep"), and pushes them out of the path of an oncoming truck, which then strikes the canine. In an odd twist, Thomas and Violet deliver the pooch to a man whom they believe is a revered veterinarian, but is actually a villain in disguise; after many pages readers learn that he is determined to take over the town—and plans to use Thomas's dog to carry out his plot. The evil vet replaces the insides of McGrowl (as Thomas eventually names him) with steel and aluminum during an operation he performs after the accident. Awkward writing, extraneous detail and humor that misses its mark sink this shaggy dog story. Ages 8-11. (Aug.)