One chapter book reviews: Pukka

Much like God dictated the Bible to its various writers, a dog named Pukka dictated Pukka to its author, Ted Kerasote. Or at least that's the conceit. The follow-up to Merle's Door, a book someone named Elizabeth Marshall Thomas called "The best book ever written about dogs" (so the book jacket says), Pukka tells the story of the youth and training of its namesake from a first-person perspective and with a lot of photos. And the photos are beautiful. Whether the book is any good is another question altogether.

And really, the answer to that question depends on whom the book is intended for. As a narrative, it's not, as one might gather based on the conceit alone, particularly compelling.

Since the book's considerable length is not divided into chapters -- and the whole point of one-chapter book reviews is that I don't have to read the whole thing -- I approached it by turning to a random page and reading for about 30 pages, which wasn't hard to do, considering the majority of the space on every page is dedicated to photographs -- and again, many of the photographs are stunning, or at least adorable. In fact, the text of the book, more than anything, serves as a sort of captioning; it's more or less dedicated to explaining what's going on in the photograph (some pages get no more than two words).

And some of it is fairly humorous. For example, one photograph shows a guy who is presumably Kerasote standing behind a wall while the dog sits on the other side with his head cocked all cute.

My other hard lesson is "wait." Ted makes it even harder by hiding around a corner of the hallway so I can't see him. I'm getting better at it, though.

"Thirty whole seconds," Ted says happily. "What a champ you are!" I don't know exactly how long thirty seconds is, but I tell you, it's a long time.

You can actually get a lot of mileage out of that chunk of text. It says something about the tone of the book (fun but insubstantial), about the author (seriously obsessed with dogs -- who trains a dog to wait? -- albeit in an obviously loving way) and about the quality of the narrative (a little stilted. Adverbial quote attributions? Come on).

But all that stuff probably doesn't matter -- we're talking about what amounts to a lengthier-than-usual picture book about a puppy here; it doesn't need to be Tolstoy. And in spite of its prodigious 200-page girth, it's still probably a book best suited to kids -- tenacious, committed kids, but kids nonetheless. Or maybe people who just really, really like dogs. Either way, for what it is, it's a sweet book with a fair share of heart, and that counts for something.

If nothing else, who doesn't like puppies?

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte