This review is available from the Books for Keeps website
Thank you to Books for Keeps for permission to reproduce their review.
David Shelton, of the brilliant and award-winning A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, sends his dynamic duo on three tricky cases in this paperback edition from the DFC library. Kirk Bergman and his new partner Duncan McBoo are a dream team of canine cops; Bergman is always on the job, looking for clues and ready for action whilst McBoo brings the brawn, but can sometimes get a little distracted by his penchant for banana milkshakes. Wise-guys and dastardly criminals of the doggy underworld forge wicked plans and there are shoot-outs, punch-ups and car chases enough to satisfy any action fans. The clever nods to gangster noir and Americana should impress the adults too – I particularly loved the view of ‘Hoppers’ café in the style of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
Jokes come thick and fast and the dark palette of the panels keeps everything in a cool and mature tone. Young readers will enjoy the physical comedy of the action and the text is simple enough to ensure everyone is on the same page. Cool, stylish and smart: DFC comics are for kids who like to think outside the box, and Good Dog, Bad Dog is another classy addition to their list.
Good versus evil
The characters from this book are the stereotypical good (cops) and the bad (criminals). Despite this these characters are far from being cardboard cut outs. They each have their faults and these dogs are really human and humane too.
Here be Monsters! By Alan Snow
This illustrated novel set in Ratbridge is an adventure story set in a fantasy world although supposedly based on Trowbridge in Wiltshire. It follows the adventures of Arthur and his battle to help his friends and clear his name after being wrongly accused of murder. The black and white drawings are sometimes complex and worthy of examination and the fantasy creatures introduced in the story are interesting as they have human characteristics, despite their appearances. This is more a novel with illustrations than a graphic novel like some of the others mentioned here but could appeal to lovers of fantasy.
Asterix by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Although not strictly about good versus evil these comical stories show opposing sides and conceptions about people who may be different and have different viewpoints. Having been translated from the French they also give an insight into Gallic ways and humour and could be used as an introduction to European culture and language.
Tin Tin by Georges Remi (Herge)
The stories of Tin Tin and his adventures will no doubt be familiar to children because of the film and this provides a starting point for discussions about animations and character representations. Despite being involved in several dangerous and life threatening situations Tin Tin always comes out on top.
Should you judge a person by appearance?
Although impressions of McBoo are, at first, that of a lumbering idiot the stories provide him with the means to show he has a modicum of brain power, although sometimes it seems the crimes almost solve themselves due to the stupidity of the criminals.
Dairy of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Greg Heffley’s journal gives the hilarious account of a boy’s thoughts as he faces the ups and downs of life. This has also been released as a film so a comparison between film and book could provide useful discussion. It also illustrates diary format and could be used as a means of teaching journal writing.
Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon
Henry is an antihero but children will love reading about his wicked ways. Trouble seems to follow him and he is impulsive and naughty. The stories about Horrid Henry also provide discussion points on characters and stereotypes.
Just William by Ricmal Crompton
These stories feature another boy who is not really naughty but always seems to be in trouble. Despite being set in a world much changed they have endless appeal and the audio versions read by Martin Jarvis are a joy to listen to.
Do the means justify the ends?
Despite being ‘good’ dogs Bergman and McBoo use violence, sometimes by mistake, to achieve their success.
The book lends itself to the study of both graphic novels and film as these characters and the storylines belong to the film genre. The names of the characters are reminiscent of the screen greats and the stories have the feeling of the 1940s, as opposed to 21st century. Looking at this book and comparing and contrasting it with comics such as the Beano and Dr Who provides several possibilities for language studies and cross-curricular work.
Take a page of the book and write it out as if it was a story including speech marks in place of the speech balloons. Read aloud. How does this affect the impact of the story?
Look at the onomatopoeic words in the text and see if you can make a list of other onomatopoeic words used in comic books.
Other teaching ideas
Character studies. In Good Dog, Bad Dog the characters are recognisable as having human characteristics. Children could choose other animals and give these characters human mannerisms and ways of speech also.
Children may be encouraged to write their own comic strips, photograph the frames and present on Powerpoint.
Read the first page using a visualiser and then ask the children to write the next three frames of the 3 story. Compare and contrast ideas.
Graphic Novels and Comics
The whole genre of graphic novels and comics deserves to be studied more seriously and a number of these are available from the DFC library. In addition a number of novels have been published in graphic novel format and could appeal to boys. Some examples are the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and Kev Walker: Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer and Andrew Dowking; Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz and the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan.
Classic graphic novels worth looking at are those by Raymond Briggs such as When the Wind Blows – a comment on the nuclear bomb – and Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen which was banned in the US after its publication in 1970.
For comic fans the notions of good and evil are explored in DC and Marvel comics with heroes such as Superman, Batman, Ironman Spiderman and other popular characters made popular by the world of the cinema. It is worth looking at the work of the new Film Nation http:// www.filmnationuk.org/ and Film Space http://www.thefilmspace.org/ for information.