I love Peter Brown’s artwork and enjoyed his last picture book, The Curious Garden (a tale about a boy who tends to a wild garden in the middle of a barren, gloomy city). So I had high expectations for his new book, Children Make Terrible Pets. With a title like that, how could it not be oodles of fun?
As you might have guessed from the cover, the pet owner in this case is a bear cub in a pink tutu (we later learn her full name is Lucille Beatrice Bear). And the pet is a little boy whom she finds in the woods while practicing her twirls (“Hello? Who’s there? I can smell you behind those bushes, so just come on out!”). Lucy thinks he’s adorable (“OH! MY! GOSH! You are the cutest critter in the WHOLE forest!”) and takes him home with her. She names him Squeaker (because of the funny sounds he makes) and begs her mother to let her keep the boy as a pet. Mom warns Lucy that “children make terrible pets” but relents under one condition: “Squeaker is YOUR responsibility. I will not take care of him for you.” (Déjà vu! How many of us have found ourselves on either end of this hilarious exchange?) The bear cub and her boy have fun doing everything together. But Lucy soon learns that pet ownership “wasn’t all fun and games.” For example, “he was impossible to potty train” and “he ruined the furniture.” Then one day, Lucy discovers that Squeaker has run away. In a panic, she tracks him down with her sensitive nose…and finds Squeaker in his natural human habitat. The bear cub realizes that Mom was right after all—“some critters just aren’t meant to be pets” and leaves the boy behind to be with his family.
The digitally tweaked, wood-framed illustrations have loads of old-fashioned charm. I especially love the expressions—the delight, pride, and horror on Lucy’s face as she watches her pet’s antics are a hoot. Much of the text is written as dialogue and appears in speech bubbles, making this a great read-aloud. As with The Curious Garden, there is a subtle lesson (through Lucy we learn about respecting creatures in their natural habitat), but the message is subtle and entertainingly delivered. Kids will get a kick out of the silly premise of a bear and child switching roles. All in all, an amusing, sweet story for the 4 to 6 set.
Are you familiar with Peter Brown’s books, such as Flight of the Dodo, Chowder, and The Curious Garden? Which is your favorite?