My friend Grace is the cataloger at my library, which means that almost every item in the library passes through her hands. And one of the perks about being friends with catalogers is that they’ll let you know that the latest books in your favorite series have arrived and about any new releases they think you might like.*
Grace has joined the valiant struggle to find something Janie will read, so she sometimes calls down to ask if I want to try this or that book and then put the title in question on hold for me to pick up at the circulation counter.
Last Tuesday, though, she met me at the time clock, handed me a children’s book and said, “Here. You have to read this.”
“Me? Or Janie?”
“Both.” And she started quoting random lines at me.
I can take a hint when it’s handed to me and raved over, so I brought it home.
J.J. Tully is a retired search-and-rescue dog who’s minding his own business when a hen missing two chicks walks into his doghouse. All chickens are trouble and this one is crazy, but he agrees to look into the disappearances for a cheeseburger—because this dog doesn’t work for chicken feed.
It seems like an easy enough case, until the mysterious notes start showing up—notes that can only lead to the one place chickens and outside dogs think twice before going: inside the house.
Where a criminal mastermind is plotting within his Cone of Shame . . .
I confess, this book wasn’t an instant hit with my kids: Janie wasn’t interested, mostly because I was, and Sunny was under the impression that if she ignored me, bedtime would ignore her. So, I sat on the couch and read the first chapter out loud.
It was short, so I read another one. Halfway through, I had two kids on either side, their heads interfering with my view as they looked at the illustrations.
“Well?” I said, when I reached the next break.
“One more, please,” Janie said.
“Yeah,” Sunny said.
I stopped at chapter six, but we read the rest of the book the next night.
“Are there any others?” Janie said.
“Yes, but they haven’t been released yet.”
“Get them when they are, please.”
“Yeah,” Sunny said.
So there you go.
Doreen Cronin** didn’t just write a mystery—this is a hard-boiled detective story that could have easily been called the Maltese Leghorn. The language, cadence, tension, and wry humor are perfect, as are the characters’ expressions in each of Kevin Cornell’s excellent illustrations. There’s a criminal mastermind and a couple of betrayals and a tired hero narrator who could have easily been played by Bogie.
In fact, with only a little adjustment, you could take out the animals and put in humans—but why on earth would you want to do that?
If you have kids, find this book. If they’re upwards of seven or eight, they can probably try it on their own, but it makes a great family read.
If you don’t have kids, find this book anyway.
It’s okay—it’s crime fiction.***
*And that you can be next in line, right after they’re finished reading them all. Apparently it’s even perkier to be a cataloger, but my brain doesn’t work that way.
**Who also wrote several of our other favorites, including Diary of a Fly (and also of Worm and of Spider, too), Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, and Duck for President. She’s awesome.
***It would be okay regardless, as I’m sure many of you are jumping to tell me, but others may be laboring under more literary dignity than we, poor souls.