The other day, my son said the most wonderful thing for me: “Can you recommend a book?” I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut while I’ve watched him plow through mountains of garbage. My general principle is that, if you expose your kids to enough really good stuff, they will soon get tired of the crap on their own–which is much more effective than hearing an adult say, “That book you’re enjoying is crap, so put it down!” So he read a lot of Goosebumps (ptui), for instance, but also Tolkein and C.S. Lewis; and eventually, he started throwing out the Goosebumps of his own accord, just so no one else would read it. (NB: I don’t, of course, let the kids read just anything. But there are good books and bad books, and then there’s a vast middleground of useless books. The Goosebumps series falls into this category.)
Anyway, our local library is pretty small, but when my son asked for a recommendation, I happened on a couple of books by William Steig. I thought Steig only did picture books — some of which are among our favorites. But we found two which are designed for slightly older kids — say, grade 3 and up. I read Dominic, and was completely delighted.
Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. One day, more restless than usual, he decided there wasn’t enough going on in his own neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. He just had to get away.
My ten-year-old son read this and realized that this book would speak directly to his adventure-dog heart. Dominic finds some excitement immediately, and continues on his way, meeting a dying pig named Bartholomew Badger, an overwhelmed goose named Matilda Fox (the mismatched last names are a running joke, just for the heck of it) and repeatedly falling afoul of the evil Doomsday Gang.
Steig’s language is sort of artificially elevated (and so younger readers or listeners might have to able to figure some words out by context:
Dominic was inside the rib cage, in a sort of succulent prison, and they might have trapped him there; but when they saw him chewing on the big bones with such furious dedication, they were paralyzed with terror.
Steig relishes fancy words, and he really pulls it off in Dominic — to much better effect, I think, than he does in some of his other books. In The Toy Brother, for instance, the ornate language just draws attention to itself, and comes off as precious rather than playful.
Dominic is also nicely illustrated by Steig in black-and-white.
Good stuff! Perfect for the parent who wishes the boys in the family had some heroes who are easy to like, but who are not Captain Underpants.