FILED IN: Book Reviews

DogFish By Gillian Shields; illustrated by Dan Taylor

That Book WomanDogfish
By Gillian Shields; illustrated by Dan Taylor
Atheneum, $16.99
32 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-1416971276

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

Here’s a boy who wants a dog, desperately. Sure, he has a goldfish, but what he really needs is a dog. It seems like everyone else has one, and besides, he could play with a dog who could fetch sticks, he could take a dog for a walk, and he could have the dog sit at his feet. Who cares that he lives in a 44th floor apartment? Who cares that he’s at school all day and Mom works? His pet goldfish is apparently fine with it.

Mom, however, shoots down the idea with a string of well-thought reasons: dogs eat a lot, they need a lot of space, and the poor dog would be bored while they’re gone all day. The boy comes up with point by point rebuttals, until Mom finally hits her limit. She tells him that instead of focusing on wanting a dog, maybe he should focus on wanting the goldfish he already has. And so, reconsidering all of his arguments for wanting a dog, this clever boy takes matters into his own hands. With a little work and imagination, he and his dogfish proudly hit the dogpark.

Gillian Shields’ Dogfish is a smartly written picture book that any kid who’s ever wanted a dog and can’t have one can relate to. Dan Taylor’s mod style illustrations add a sophistication that lends itself well to the city setting. His depiction of the boy and his goldfish are just adorable and totally effective in conveying the boy’s emotions. The boy’s a savvy narrator — he knows the deal with mom and he’s candid in his descriptions of her; he knows "we’ll see" is momspeak for no and he recognizes the "kind-and-caring" voice at the beginning of their conversation as well as the "this-is-really-the-end-of-the-matter" voice that ends the conversation. But he’s determined, even after it’s clear he isn’t getting the dog. His realization about all the things his goldfish can do is sweet and satisfying, and young readers (and their parents) will cheer when he triumphantly debuts his dogfish at the park.

While not every kid is ever going to be convinced that a goldfish is just as good as a dog, Gillian Shields’ theme is presented in a positive way, introducing the concept of making do with what you’ve got and being happy with it in a manner that’s accessible to young readers. Never heavy on the moral, Dogfish is one of those unique books where kids can be entertained and maybe learn a little something too, making it a great family read.