It's a dog's life

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Colin Dann, in tiptop condition and form, has written what must surely become a classic of canine fiction. Nobody's Dog (Red Fox pound;3.99), a lucid and heart-warming traditional narrative for Year 4 readers upwards, tells the story of Digby, an affectionate, but nervous border collie. His owners find him a handful and, separating him from his brother, Tam, take him to the dogs' home, where we first meet him and an old greyhound called Streak.

Digby leaves the home to become friend and accompanist of Frank, a busker, who lives in a squat with an obstreperous older man, Norman. Dann makes both Frank and Norman grittily believable without alienating the book's target audience. The story is excitement-packed: Norman falls into the cellar, the squat is condemned and Digby, having become separated from Frank, is sold in a grubby deal. But, in the best tradition of animal adventure, fortuitous coincidences bring about a happy ending: a job and a home for Frank, and a joyful reunion for Digby and Tam.

Two doggy tales for nursery and reception pupils are Slow Dog's Nose by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Andre Amstutz (Puffin pound;4.99), a title in the Fast Fox, Slow Dog first reader series in which Slow Dog, in his nick-of-time style, foils Fox's attempt to cook up Mother Hen's chickens, and Sglod and Chips by Ruth Morgan (Pont pound;4.95). This story about a pier-dwelling, out-of-condition dog with a taste for chips is filled with bold, summery artwork by Suzanne Carpenter.

Dognapped, by Jan Page (Corgi Pups pound;3.50) is a funny illustrated tale for Year 1 up. When the Witch arrives at te Wizard's party with Dog, both he and the other witches are put out. Where is her cat? They are further put out when Dog helps the Witch to win the star party game, the Treasure Hunt, by sniffing out the magic wand. The other witches throw out their cats and buy themselves some dogs. When the dogs from the pet shop prove useless, one of the witches kidnaps Dog and locks him in her bungalow. Only when Dog casts a spell that fills every witch's house with mice is the status quo re-established.

In Wonder Dog by Sam Llewellyn (Walker pound;9.99), for the same age group, Dai saves a sheepdog puppy called Bag from the drowning pool. The young dog proves to be frisky and wayward, but equally colourful are the members of Dai's Welsh farming family and their immediate neighbours.

Rose Impey has merged familiar "transformation" yarns and come up with two lively new tales in the Twice Upon a Time series, illustrated by Peter Bailey in Ugly Dogs and Slimy Frogs (Orchard pound;7.99). The first story, "The Great Big Horrid Small-tooth Dog", borrows elements from a traditional Midlands tale and from "Beauty and the Beast". A huge dog with small teeth saves a rich man from thieves. In a wave of confused gratitude, the man gives away his only daughter as a reward. The girl, miserably enduring her fate, refuses to call her captor anything other than a great big horrid small-tooth dog. Before, that is, "She called him 'sweet' and broke the spell.And everything afterwards turned out well." Year 1 up, and useful for older year-groups as an example of variations on a traditional format.


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