Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague
Reading level: Ages 4-8
A clever book for a clever dog, Dear Mrs. LaRue collects a series of guilt-inducing letters sent home by the cat-chasing, chicken-pie-eating Ike to his "cruel" owner Mrs. LaRue, whom he hopes will come to her senses and spring him from obedience school.
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Desperate to come home, Ike shows great enthusiasm for stretching the truth about his treatment at Brotweiler Canine Academy. Illustrator and author Mark Teague has developed a hilariously disdainful and dignified voice for the not-very-put-upon Ike, but Teague's most cunning innovation is the book's format: He splits each spread between what's really happening, done in color, and what Ike's imagining and exaggerating to Mrs. LaRue, in big thought bubbles using dramatic black and white. As Ike delivers his first letter, in his thought bubble we see Ike carted away in the Brotweiler Canine Academy paddy wagon ("We Aim to Tame"!), up a windy road to a scary-looking quasi-Transylvanian compound, complete with lightning and bats; in full-color reality, Brotweiler looks much more like the UCLA campus in spring bloom, with a sign pointing to the sauna (on the right) and the pool (on the left).
Ike's first carefully typed letter pleads, "How could you do this to me? This is a PRISON, not a school! You should see the other dogs. They are BAD DOGS, Mrs. LaRue! I do not fit in." Subsequent letters describe the staff ("The GUARDS here are all caught up in this 'good dog, bad dog' thing"), the "crimes" that landed him there ("I'd like to clear up some misconceptions about the Hibbins' cats. First, they are hardly the little angels Mrs. Hibbins makes them out to be. Second, how should I know what they were doing out on the fire escape in the middle of January? They were being a bit melodramatic, don't you think?"), and his eventual plans for escape ("I'm sorry it has come to this, since I am really a very good dog, but frankly you left me no choice"). Teague drew inspiration from a couple of sneaky dogs in his own life; kids and grownups reading Ike's tall tales might be reminded of loyal and misunderstood pooches of their own.