Avi. Poppy. Harcourct Brace, 1995
Cynthia Rylant. Gooseberry Park. Orchard, 1995
The plot is simple. Dominic is a dog who sets out in search of adventure and interesting smells. Naturally, he finds plenty of both. As he travels, he encouters villans, rescues their victims, makes friends, and leaves them behind. Dominic is a gentle junior version of the old-fashioned picaresque novel. Sort of like Tom Jones without the sex or the long anti-Jacobite tirades.
There is a freshness and optimism to the book that appeals to adults and children alike, and-- since Dominic constantly extolls the joys of travel-- it was a great book to take on a holiday that involved long car trips. In fact, one day, instead of bickering with each other, The Boys in the Back Seat started speculating about whether they had spotted more different license plates on this trip than Dominic would have spotted on his travels (since there are no cars in Dominic, they didn't really come to any useful conclusion).
I put the book aside for a week or two, and when I picked it up again we were all able to root for Poppy in her struggle against the tyrannical owl, Mr. Ocax. Poppy is not only a good adventure story, but also a compelling portrait of a dictator and the creatures he bullies into obedience.
But no discussion of Poppy can be complete without mentioning the porcupine, Erethizon Dorsatum (Ereth for short), an absolutely marvellous comic creation, a veritable W.C. Fields of the forest, and a character that I would love to see return in a long series of adventures. Unfortunately, Avi is probably too original a writer to succumb to the temptation of the series book.
This story is more urban, and more domestic than the previous two books; Stumpy the squirrel lives in a comfortable city park until an ice storm destroys the tree she and her new babies live in. Her dog friend, Kona must rescue her and her children with the help of scatterbrained Murray the bat, and the advice of Gwendolyn, the sage old Hermit Crab. (Kona and Gwendolyn are pets belonging to Professor Albert, a token human who can be counted on to fall asleep whenever the animals need to spring into action. I could really identify with Professor Albert. He really only has that one skill, but he does it so well.)
Cynthia Rylant, as usual, is masterful at portraying her characters' feelings of love and friendship. This simple story has a real emotional resonance.
--David K. Brown