Aggie And Ben Paperback – Jul 1 2007
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 2–Ben lives every child's dream when Dad takes him on a surprise trip to the pet shop to select the animal of his choice. After contemplating his options and considering the sometimes-humorous consequences of each one (…a snake might make Mommy scream), he decides on a dog. Readers will chuckle through the chapter Just Like Aggie as Ben mimics the pup's routine of panting, sniffing, and playing chase but draws the line at drinking out of the toilet. Funky but tender, Dormer's pen-and-ink cartoons with watercolor washes add depth to the simple story and provide that perfect illustration-to-text match that one seeks in successful easy readers. If at a loss when seeking another recommendation for graduates of Cari Meister's Tiny books (Viking) and lovers of Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge books (S & S), try Aggie and Ben. This unassuming tale will prove a welcome addition to any collection for emerging readers.–Jill Heritage Maza, Conn Elementary, Raleigh, NC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Lori Ries was born in Syracuse, New York, the eldest of four children. She discovered a love for storytelling as a young child and wrote her first story when she was just ten years old. It was a short story called "Jo-Jo the Raccoon" based on a true story about a baby raccoon that Lori's grandfather found on the side of the road and brought home for his children to raise. Lori lives in Tigard, Oregon, with her husband and three children.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Aggie and Ben" bridges the alleged gap between picture and chapter books with three short chapters about young Ben choosing and playing with a pet animal. The sentences are simple and the words are short, yet author Lori Ries keeps things interesting and cohesive. In the first short chapter, Ben visits a pet store and deliberates over the pros and cons of each animal. He likes birds, mice, cats, and snakes, but he's thoughtful enough to consider the potential negatives: "A cat would chase things. A cat would play. But a cat would not play with me at the park. 'I do not think I want a cat,' I say." The language is straight on, with no twisty clauses or confusing tenses. ANd, as simple as the narrative is, Ries' protagonist actually shares his thoughts with the reader. SOmetimes those thoughts are humorous, especially when coupled with Frank Dormer's light, airy pen and watercolor illustrations: "But a snake might make Mommy scream," says Ben while thinking about a pet snake. We see mommy in the shower (behind a curtain, of course), her hair covered in a huge shower cap as she faces a green snake wrapped around the shower head!
By chapter two, Ben has chosen his pet, a brown and white Beaglish sort of mutt whom he names "Aggie." THey play copycat (or dog): "'Look, I'm a dog,' I tell MOmmy. 'I am just like Aggie....' Aggie sniff the couch. I sniff the couch, too. She sniffs the couch. I sniff the couch too." But Ben must teach Aggie some limites: Daddy's shoe is not a toy, a clothes dryer is not a bed, and, when Aggie drinks out of the toilet (all tastefully drawn), Ries writes this gem: "I am done being a dog." The last chapter is called, "The Scary THing," promising something a little more dangerous. That's another good thing about this book; you can read one chapter and skip others depending on your child's mood. This last story deals with kids' fear of the dark. Aggie gets cozy on Ben's bed, but when the lights go out, they seem to see things, somewhat...scary things. However, Ben and Aggie discover that they're just toys, or shadows (Ben's silhoetted bathrobe looks like a shadowy person),, or Aggie himself pulling on the bed cover! ADults will love the soft, gentle conclusion as they ready their own kids for bed:
Aggie lies down to sleep, too.
There is nothing scary.
Just me and Aggie.
It's difficult to pack so much into a simple story, but Ries and Dormer succeed. A few times, I wished the pictures were somewhat more color saturated, but by the last page, I saw that it fit with the light, comforting tone. This is a book that respects kids' intellectual and emotional needs, and its warmth is palpable.
Author Lori Ries selects familiar children's themes, then gives each one a clever twist that makes it fresh and surprising. In the first story, the tried and true (often trite) I-want-a-pet motif is inverted, as going to the pet store is Dad's idea. Once there, luckily, adults retire to the background and focus shifts to Ben for the rest of the book. Ben ponders a number of potential pets, rejecting each for a humorous yet logical reason before picking a puppy who makes him laugh.
The second chapter/story introduces the puppy, Aggie, to her new home. Ben follows her around the house, experiencing everything from a puppy's point of view. Kids and adults alike will howl with laughter midway through at the reason Ben declares, "I am done being a dog."
Ries obviously knows kids and dogs, too. The tale is absolutely kid-size, right down to the scary sounds in the night that challenge Ben and Aggie in the third story/chapter.
Illustrator' Frank Dormer's bright ink and watercolor illustrations add zest to the tale. At first brush, the cartoony style seems angular, almost abstract, but by page 6, when the reader reaches the pet store with Ben and his dad, the pictures are so actively and perfectly suited to the text, it's hard to imagine them in any other form. Dormer, an editorial illustrator, makes a delightful children's book debut here.
Even confirmed cat-lovers will find it hard to resist this appealing puppy and her boy.
Broken into three small tales, the first story in this book is "The Surprise". One day Daddy informs Ben that they're going somewhere to get an unexpected delight. The next moment the two are in a pet store to look for someone perfect. Ben is very good at weighing the pros and cons of each potential animal. In the end, he decides that a dog would be best, and the best dog of the lot is the one that makes him laugh. In story number two, "Just Like Aggie", Ben pretends to be a dog himself as he and Aggie explore the home. Aggie has some pretty funny ideas about what to drink, where to sleep, what to chew, and where she belongs. Fortunately she has Ben nearby to straighten her out. Finally, in the "The Scary Thing" Aggie is afraid of various noises and shadows that appear in Ben's room. In the end, however, Ben (who starts getting a little freaked out by his perpetually on notice pup) is able to convince Aggie that the bedroom is safe. "There is nothing scary. Just me and Aggie."
Author Lori Ries (a dog owner herself) has given the world a very rare item. Picture books with simple words for early readers may sound like they're a dime a dozen, but try locating one for kicks. Go on. You can find plenty of small books like "Frog and Toad" or "Alien and Possum" but try locating a picture book that uses the same simple vocabulary. In 2005 the best book to do this was the truly wonderful, "A Splendid Friend, Indeed", by Suzanne Bloom. This year, the honor falls to "Aggie and Ben". Which is to say that Ms. Ries has that very rare ability to write simply and wittily. At one point in the book, for example, Ben gets Aggie home for the first time and sets about imitating her every move. Then we come to the following: "Aggie goes into the bathroom. I go into the bathroom, too. Aggie sees the toilet." Beat. "I am done being a dog." You don't come across too many droll picture books these days. Credit "Aggie and Ben" then with an understated sense of humor and the ability to hand the viewer some sweet and honest moments.
Sometimes an author will trump their illustrator with their superior wordplay. Other times an artist will put a writer's works to shame with their command of a scintillating palette. In "Aggie and Ben", however, I was relieved to find an equal pairing of talents. If Lori Ries is queen of the sublime passage then Frank Dormer is her undeniably talented king. Drawn in pen and ink with watercolors on (and here I simply MUST quote this to you), "140-lb. cold-press Winsor and Newton paper", Dormer isn't afraid to move beyond the expected. He moves away from single panels or enclosed spreads. Sometimes a character will be featured quite simply against a white background. Other times they'll appeal in a full-page or half-page square. Even better, Dormer likes to shakes things up a bit by changing his angles. At one point you'll be looking down at the characters in the book. The next moment you're at the bottom of a hill and Aggie is racing straight towards you, hell for leather. The simple lines and soft colors are distinctive enough to keep the average reader from confusing Dormer's style with anyone else. Wanna know the kicker? This is his first book. How amazing is that? Talk about an artist "getting it" right from the get-go.
Undoubtedly you could pair "Aggie and Ben" with another new pooch book. My personal favorite is the remarkably wonderful, "Let's Get a Pup, Said Kate" by Bob Graham. Ries's story deals with simpler issues and characters, but that doesn't mean that the story isn't just as engaging in its way. More sophisticated (and palatable) than "Biscuit" and lots of fun to look at, "Aggie and Ben" has no choice but to become loved by child that finds it. There is a very great danger that you may miss this book as it flies under the radar. See that you snatch yourself a copy at the most opportune moment.
In the second story, Ben wants to be like Aggie. He pants, he rolls on the floor, but draws the line at drinking water out of the toilet bowl. We see Ben teaching Aggie proper dog behavior, the do's and don'ts of living in the household.
In the third story Ben and Aggie go to sleep in Ben's bed. Aggie is afraid of sounds and shadows at first, and Ben gets up, turns on the light, and shows her what is making the noise or the shape on the wall. Aggie then plays a trick on Ben.
A very well-written book, totally enjoyable. Kids will love both Ben and Aggie, and so will adults.
1. The writing. Lori Ries captures the personality of Ben with simple, honest language, and keeps the story moving with clever plot twists. (The scene where Aggie drinks from the toilet is classic!)
2. The format. This book is divided into three short stories, providing natural stopping points when you don't feel like reading everything at once. The format works well for beginning readers, who may be more comfortable taking on a single chapter. It also works well as a read-aloud.
3. Quirky illustrations. Aggie is just so adorable, kids can't resist her.
Review by Sherry North, Author, Because You Are My Baby
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