Thursday, October 29, 2009

Penny & Rio: The Locked Doghouse Mystery by Jennifer Swanson, illustrated by Swapan Debnath

Detective Penny and lazy Rio solve a mystery, make new friends, and learn an important lesson.

At least, that's the main gist of the descriptions. It doesn't really work that way in the story. First, there's not actually a mystery - it's more of a problem; how to unlock a padlocked doghouse. There's some brief speculation on why it's locked, but this is never explained. They do make a new friend, what appears to be a Great Dane, who has moved in next door. He is, stereotypically, rather stupid (of course, big = stupid) but friendly. Penny, and eventually Rio, are trying to unlock the doghouse to help their other new friend Squeaky, a mouse. They try breaking the lock, looking for the key, and finally tip the doghouse over so Squeaky can crawl in the hole. The secret he has hidden inside turns out to be photo albums of his family. Penny and Rio realize that family is the most important thing, and are glad they've made up from their fight over bones the night before.

The writing is stilted and depends heavily on dialogue, but the characters' voices aren't distinct enough and the story is extremely confusing - the reader is never quite sure who's saying what. The elements of the plot are haphazard and don't fit together well.

The layout, design, and illustrations have problems also. The book is a slim paperback - only 43 pages - but the reading level is too high for it to be an easy reader. There's also no title on the spine. From a library perspective, if you buy this book despite the serious writing flaws, it's going to disappear into the shelf. Inside, the book, the illustrations are flat and lifeless with odd color combinations, looking as though they were hastily sketched with computer graphics. Several illustrations are repeated throughout the book without variation. The type is heavily bolded and unevenly spread over the pages.

Verdict: Not recommended for libraries or individual purchasers. Children looking for beginning chapter dog or mystery stories should be steered towards Lucy Nolan's Down Girl and Sit series or, at a higher reading level, Hank the Cowdog by Erickson.

ISBN: 978-1936046102; Published August 2009 by Mirror Publishing; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

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