CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 14. . . . March 14, 2003
"Then why is he acting so strange?"
Judy seemed to be the considering the question.
"Maybe you won't believe me," she said in a serious voice, "but our little dumpling is in love!"
Gary and I had expected anything but that! We both turned and looked at Dumpling and burst out laughing.
Once Judy had revealed Dumpling's great secret to us, Gary and I had only one thing in mind: we wanted to meet the sorceress who had cast a spell on Dumpling.
The first time she showed up Gary and I were out running errands. Mom had never seen this dog before. She thought it was a stray.
These "First Novels" must be one of the most difficult genres to write. To fit all the necessary elements into this 62 page format demands a unique skill. Then the translation from French, with its idiosyncrasies, into English with its quirks makes these stories a marvel. Although these stories have a format formula, the plots are refreshingly unique and offer early readers a variety as they develop their solo reading confidence.
Out of curiosity, Microsoft Word's 'Readability Test' was applied to the excerpts. All but Marilou Cries Wolf are written in the first person. Each novel provides vocabulary-building opportunities by introducing multi-syllabic words in easy to decipher contexts.
Each story has line drawings to break up and provide energy to the text. There is always a place on library shelves for these early Canadian readers.
Dear Old Dumpling picks up where Gauthier's previous title, Mooch Forever, concluded. Dumpling's first birthday is approaching, and he has been acting strangely. Judy, Carl's mom thinks she has the answer - Dumpling is in love. A German shepherd has been hanging around, causing Dumpling to get excited. But is Dumpling really in love, or is the German shepherd some kind of messenger sent to tell Carl his deceased dog had not forgotten him?
Reading the above synopsis makes the story sound a bit hokey, but Gauthier deals with some tough issues (as he did in Mooch Forever: death, grief, and the possibility of step-parents) plausibly and honestly. This is very difficult to do in this restrictive early reader format.
Microsoft Word's 'Readability Test' gives the two above excerpts Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores of 4.3 and 4.8 respectively which seems a bit high for this type of book. However, the sentences are primarily short, the vocabulary appropriate and the dialogue fluent, if not always believable. Some strange phrasing exists: "We all stood around the candle and blew up a storm. The flame could not resist" and "But as was his wont these days, Sir Dumpling was exploring the wider world." The short sentences and sporadic awkward phrasing makes it difficult to read aloud.
Ruth Scales McMahon, of Lethbridge, AB, is a professional children's librarian, the co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Book Award and the mother of two young children.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.