Stick Dog by Tom Watson is a newly upgraded version (the screenshot above is from my free review copy) of what used to be a freebie on Amazon that looked like this:
Apparently the story was picked up by HarperCollins and repackaged as a hardcover and a newly illustrated Kindle version (with some edits and additions to the original text). The original was illustrated by Tom. The new version has illustrations by Ethan Long based on Tom’s original sketches. There are still a couple of Tom Watson books on Amazon that are free such as:
When Cows Fly and Garbage! Monster! Burp!
Stick Dog is a cute book. It’s plain silly and I think it will appeal to kids on many levels. First, it’s about dogs. Second, the author has little conversation asides that add a bit of personalization and humor. He starts out with explaining that he can’t draw and likens a tree he draws to a “big thingy of broccoli”. All throughout the text he interrupts the story to talk to the reader. It really adds to the narrative and makes the entire thing really appealing, friendly and fun.
In the original version of Stick Dog it’s clear that a grown-up is sharing this but in the new version of the story the author appears to be repackaged as a student because he talks about his English teacher in the present tense and states, “While I have a feeling I’m not going to get very good grades for my Stick Dog stories, that doesn’t matter when it comes to you me and our agreement. So the final thing we need to agree on is that this Stick Dog story (with the bad pictures that my art teacher doesn’t like) will also be told in a way that I like (but my English teacher doesn’t).”
I think it’s a shame they (HarperCollins??) had to turn the narrator into a child because throughout the book Tom Watson keeps shining through as what he is, a grown-up. I think it would appeal to kids even more to have a grown up admitting he’s not so good at something. At any rate, I wasn’t convinced by the tone of the “new” narrator. It’s so obvious that the author is an adult and yet, for the purpose of “reaching out to the kids who are going to read the book” he must be transformed into a child. It doesn’t fit. No matter, Stick Dog is still an entertaining book and I don’t think most children will even notice this detail at all, especially if they’ve not read the first version, before it was picked up by a publisher.
So, once the author introduces his abilities (or rather, lack thereof), we get introduced to Stick Dog and his doggie friends: Poo Poo, (where it says: “There’s a poodle named Poo-Poo. Now, it’s important to know that Poo-Poo is not named after, you know, going to the bathroom. He’s named after his own name. Get it? POO-dle.”), Stripes, Karen and Mutt.
The entire story revolves around how these stray dogs want to steal hamburgers from a family picnicking at the park. Don’t worry, they don’t end up stealing them after all, but that IS what the entire story is about – doing something wrong…but, I guess, stray dogs don’t really have moral standards, do they? Still, if you are a conservative family, this may not appeal to you. I know it would give me pause, with a young child.
On the way to the park the dogs run into a distraction: Poo-Poo sees her nemesis – a squirrel. Never fear though, Stick Dog, who is the brightest of the pack, manages to get Poo-Poo to get back on track with a little old fashioned manipulation and reverse psychology.
Then the dogs concoct really silly and impractical methods of obtaining the hamburgers like driving a car as a distraction (not stealing it – just driving it a few blocks – in the words of one of the dogs), jumping off a cliff (and then the humans will feel sorry for them and give them the hamburgers) and so on. As each dog comes up with an idea that is just outrageous and Stick Dog gently moves them along to the next idea – sometimes with a bit of dishonesty like saying something is a terrific plan when he clearly knows it’s not – as he takes the blame for why the plan won’t work so that he can get to the hamburgers sooner. Then, when one of the dogs feels bad about his plan not being chosen, Stick Dog cheers him up with a big of flattery mentioning how great his friend’s fur looks and asks, “Did you have a bath recently?” “Yes, I did, as a matter of fact,” said Stripes, “Just a few months ago.”
Stick Dog ends on a happy note and I can see the series continuing, even though this ending is solid and satisfying. The humans not only give them hamburgers of their own volition, they end up showering the dogs with affection as well.
As for inappropriateness, there is a lot of silliness but nothing especially distressing. The book doesn’t take itself seriously and I’d put it in the Captain Underpants category. You aren’t going to find anything especially redeeming here but there isn’t any evil, either. “Dang it” and “Heck” are used, but there are no other words of that nature. There is the whole issue of the dogs wanting to steal, but it’s in the context of them being dogs. They are kind to one another as friends. If I was handing this over to a very young reader, I’d have to take into account some of Stick Dog’s methods for getting to his ultimate goal: the hamburgers. As mentioned above, he employs flattery and dishonesty but not in an obnoxious way as with some current children’s humorous books or with the intent to hurt anyone. Compared to a lot of books nowadays, it’s extremely tame and certainly not “in your face”. I mention it though, because some families may not think these things appropriate and wouldn’t want wrong ideas put into tender minds. I have mixed feeling about it and would say it would depend on the child.
Stick Dog is definitely entertaining. As a child I would have totally connected to the story and enjoyed it immensely. Even as an adult I was amused. I think it would appeal to reluctant readers especially because of the humor and simple story line. There are some “big” words though that might be beyond a NEW reader. Children who are solid readers though will probably enjoy the silliness. It reminded me of the crazy stories my dad would make up for me when I was little. 🙂
If you are a conservative family, as I mentioned before, you may not like Stick Dog because of how the entire story is centered around stealing (and the other minor issues I pointed out). My 14 year old son (who is way out of the intended age range) read it and commented on how it was OK and some parts were funny but immediately picked up on the fact that the entire thing was about stealing and didn’t really like that.
I give Stick Dog 3 stars because of the minor issues I have with it. It’s really cute and funny (kids are going to really enjoy it) but there are a few small things that would make me pause in recommending it to just anyone. Hopefully my review will better help you make a decision if it’s appropriate for your family and your family’s values.
Final verdict: 3 stars
*I received a free copy of Stick Dog in exchange for my honest review.
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