Author: Berkeley Breathed
Length: 216 pages
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content appropriate for: Grades 3-6
Format: Classroom library paperback
Three adjectives that describe this book: creative, fun, surprising
Children's dog stories have a sordid history - being either over-the-top lovey (Lassie is a good example) or devastatingly sad (Old Yeller). The dogs in children's stories don't fare well. They get sick, attacked, and (often) die.
That's why I was surprised to read the Goodreads reviews of Flawed Dogs. One reviewer after another couldn't believe that a children's book had dogs that were suffering. "How can this book be for children?" they asked. Most of the outrage stems from the opening scene, in which our central character is forced into a dog fight.
Yet, my fifth grade students have been recommending this book to me for years. Many of them heard it read aloud by one of our third grade teachers, and they couldn't believe that I had never read it. You read that right - THIRD graders love this story. Still, after all those eager recommendations, Flawed Dogs sat on my bookshelf for over a year with that cheesy cover.
The truth of Flawed Dogs is that it is neither too sad nor too cheesy, although it has both elements. Yes, Sam faces horrible experiences, but Berkeley Breathed infuses his story with a surreal realism that is somehow lighthearted. Sam's fellow dogs, and the shenanigans they get involved in, are just on the edge of outrageous.
I especially loved the group of unwanted dogs that Sam befriends, including one that can fly by extending his jowls and another that farts rocket-boosting flames. Ultimately these dogs crash Westminster and it's a jolly good time.
The best way to describe this book, is that it's basically a dog version of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but with some dark humor mixed in.
If you enjoy the somewhat heartbreaking tale of a character overcoming adversity to find love and acceptance, Flawed Dogs is a unique choice!