My favourite children’s book of all time is The Phantom Tollbooth closely followed by Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden. Even though The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t as well known as the two others (even though Schmidt and Cece from New Girl both love it!) , it’s one of the most creative books I’ve ever read.
The best children’s books are the ones that stay with you even when you’re an adult. In fact, reading them again when you’re an adult just makes you discover new facets of the book that you didn’t notice as a child. The one thing that Alice in Wonderland, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Peter Pan all have in common is that you feel something after reading them. Even as an adult, we’re transported back to a time of innocence and wonder. The best books can do that. I don’t read a lot of children’s literature anymore, but sometimes I like to do so to remind me of a time when I hoped for magical worlds and talking animals that would be my best friend. I miss the times when I learned lessons from what I read and when reading could take me to Neverland or Wonderland or The Lands Beyond. They were great periods of my life.
With books like that, I set a high bar for children’s literature today. So I suppose the bar was unrealistically high when I was asked to review The Metrodogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney. Like a lot of children’s books, there were talking animals in this one. I’m not sure why it’s such a common element, but it is.
JR (short for Jack Russell) is an embassy dog. His human, George, is a diplomat who has to travel for work. A lot. Now George is working at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. And while he fancies himself an adventurous globetrotter, he doesn’t see why JR needs any more excitement than hanging out at the park with the other embassy dogs.
JR, however, has had quite enough of leashes and perfectly manicured parks, not to mention the boring embassy dogs. He decides to explore Moscow himself, and soon meets some wily Russian strays. JR is convinced that this is the life he’s been looking for. Amazing city smells! Mouthwatering stuffed potatoes! And best of all, the freedom to travel on the Moscow metro!
Meanwhile, George has found himself a new girlfriend: the ravishingly beautiful Katerina, who JR suspects is too good to be true. And if that weren’t trouble enough, JR’s new friends are starting to mysteriously disappear.
When an embassy dog goes missing as well, JR knows he must use everything he’s learned about his new home to solve the mystery of Moscow’s missing dogs.
Do I think this is going to go down in history as the next best great children’s book? No. Do I think young readers are going to enjoy the story while they’re reading it? Yes. JR is a wonderful character. He’s a small, simple dog with a good heart. The book’s central themes of not judging based on appearances and learning what true friendship is about will hit home with young readers. They’ll enjoy the mystery of the missing dogs and they’ll love the characters that are introduced.
This isn’t a complex book and it will easily be devoured by pre-teens since it’s quite short and the language isn’t too difficult. As far as I know, there aren’t that many children’s books based in Moscow, so I did find the setting to be original, even if the plot wasn’t. It’s a cute read with some very cool elements in it. I especially liked how the dogs had such human personalities. (Is it wrong I hope that our pets are really like that?)
Overall, I think it’s a perfect book for younger readers and Delaney shows some real promise.
I’m still looking for the next best children’s book. I’ll let you know if I find it.