Fenway & Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang by Victoria J. Coe – Review by Dalila Eckstein
What is it about dog books? Even though I have never been the owner of a dog, I am and have been the owner of many dog books. There’s something compelling about them. They seem to have a direct link to the heart. And, as a teacher, I’ve learned that a well-written dog character is gold in a classroom. Students get sucked right in!
So when I was shopping for books at Nerd Camp Long Island in November 2015, I was drawn directly to a bright yellow cover and the picture of a smiling Jack Russell Terrier. As my eyes drew up, I was met by the author’s smile that reached right up into her twinkly eyes. In that moment, I somehow knew that I had just discovered one of those magical dog books that I would have to share with my students. Fenway and Hattie, by Victoria J. Coe, became a favorite last year, and again this year. Fenway’s funny antics and loyalty to his short human, Hattie, won my students over. It doesn’t get better than that. Except that it does! There’s another Fenway and Hattie!
On Tuesday, Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang hit bookstores everywhere, and my students and I are thrilled to jump into another adventurous journey.
Fenway is all about Hattie, which is the first reason readers are endeared to him. When Hattie croons “best buddies, best buddies” while snuggling into Fenway’s fur, Fenway’s joy is tail-waggingly wonderful. He would do anything to protect his short human– from evil squirrels, intruders, and this time, an evil bunny gang!
As we launch into the world of Fenway for a second round, I am reminded that the writing is what makes Fenway leap off each page. I mean, I know that seems like an absurdly obvious statement because, the writing is always what makes or breaks a book, but Victoria J. Coe is my hero when it comes to writing from a non-human perspective. In particular, Coe jumps right into the mind of Fenway and we, the readers, explore the world from a foot off the ground. The first-dog voice drives the narrative.
If you Google Jack Russell Terrier, the Wikipedia summary gives the following descriptors for temperament: “Vocal, Athletic, Energetic, Stubborn, Fearless, Intelligent”
Coe evokes these characteristics deftly through Fenway’s thoughts and actions.
Fenway athletically and energetically chases squirrels and joins games of catch with Hattie. Fenway barks at all the troublesome issues that invade his home and “Dog Park” (i.e. backyard), and this time, bunnies who are chowing down on Food Lady’s (Hattie’s mom’s) new vegetable patch. When Fenway intelligently sniffs for clues in the trounced garden greens to locate and rid the Dog Park of furry intruders, Fenway finds himself in a heap of trouble!
But, Fenway is fearless and his family, Fetch Man, Foody Lady, and Hattie (a.k.a Short Human), are all that matters. With advice and sympathy from his next door dog neighbors, Goldie and Patches, Fenway jumps in with four paws to rid the yard, and even the house, of bunny intruders.
Here’s a taste of the early action:
“I bound into the lettuce leaves, ready to tear on through. But I’m barely halfway across when I stop still in my tracks. Eeeeew, what’s that horrible smell?
I take a look around. The soil isn’t level and smooth the way it usually is. It’s all dug up. The lettuces are toppled and torn. Uh-oh! Yesterday, they were full and leafy. Clearly, something is wrong.
Everywhere I look, there’s more damage. A curly squash vine is severed, and its blossoms are gone. What happened?
I sniff all around, my fur prickling with alarm. That scent is awfully mysterious. It’s not a squirrel. Or a chipmunk. Or a bird. But it’s a wild creature all right.
A sure sign of danger! I must discover who ruined the plants!”
When Food Lady and Hattie find Fenway in the trampled garden, you can just imagine what they conclude. How will Fenway overcome the deck that is stacked against him by evil bunnies and erroneous assumptions? How will Hattie keep up with the responsibility of her stubbornly loyal furry friend? You’ll just have to scamper on out to a bookstore to get a copy of Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang! And when you do, you’ll feel compelled to share it with every reader and writer you know because while this story is just plain fun to read, aloud to others, or curled up all alone, it’s a fantastic story to teach students about making inferences, and to use as a mentor for writing from different perspectives.
Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang is a must-have book to entertain readers and inspire writers. My students and I are ready to “dig in” today and gain a new paw-spective with Fenway’s latest.
Dalila Eckstein has been teaching third grade in Lower Merion School District for 13 years. She is unable to resist a good book, which results in piles of books to be read on her bedside and under her coffee table and on her Kindle. She reads to her students every day, and has often been heard introducing a book as “one of her favorites,” which amuses her students who tell her, “You always say that!” She is a writing fellow with the PA Writing & Literature Project. She blogs in short bursts at www.writealoudhere.com, and she claims Tuesday nights to work on her hoping-to-someday-be-published book. She tweets with the handle, @DalilaE.