Category Archives: reviews

Two Books for Kids Featuring Pugs

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Somehow I missed this book when it came out in 2010. Written by Tori Spelling–yes, that Tori–it’s a story of a poor little rich girl who can’t act the way the other 99 percent do. She’s not allowed to get dirty, or talk loudly, or even wear jeans. So tragic. On the plus side, there’s a pug in the book. In real life, Tori Spelling is a big fan of pugs, so no surprise she included one in her story.

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Coming out in a few days is another, more promising book for pug-loving kids. Pug: And Other Animal Poems is by Valerie Worth with collage illustrations by the brilliant Steve Jenkins. Its on my TBR list for sure.

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Animal Smarts

Chaser

Watched the Nova scienceNOW episode on animal intelligence on PBS last Wednesday and it was pretty good. The hour-long show featured dogs, dolphins, octopuses, and Alex, an African parrot. The highlight of the dog section was a border collie named Chaser. What an amazing dog! As mentioned previously in this blog, Chaser knows the names of more than 1,000 of her toys. In the special, she is told to fetch a specific toy from a bunch hidden behind a couch. Off she trots and time after time she brings back the correct one. Then comes the show stopper. A toy that she has never seen before (a plush figure of Darwin–clever!) is placed in the pile. Chaser is instructed to fetch Darwin, an unfamiliar name. Can she do it? It’s obvious the dog is befuddled. She noses around the pile of toys. All but one are familiar. Will she be be able to infer that the one toy whose name she doesn’t know must be Darwin? She’s called back and again told to find Darwin. This time, success! She grabs Darwin and bring the toy back to lavish praise.

While these feats of canine intelligence were being portrayed on the screen, Pablo snored by my side, unimpressed. Chaser was doing all this work and not getting treats? Pablo was having none of it!

My second favorite section was the one on octopuses. I’ve always found cephalopods to be fascinating creatures, the way they jet around, instantly camouflage themselves, and escape from predators in a blast of inky smoke. In this section viewers were introduced to Ruby, an octopus able to problem solve. In his home at the Biomes Marine Center in North Kingstown, Ruby was given a jar with a twist-on lid. Inside was a delectable shrimp. Not shown how to open the jar, the mollusk sometimes tightened it instead. Through trial and error, Ruby learned how to consistently open the lid and retrieve his snack. Sadly, Ruby died a year ago. His memory lives on.

Ruby

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Filed under Canine intelligence, Dog breeds, Other critters, reviews

Decoding Dogs

I watched a very informative NOVA show about dogs and genetics last night on PBS. Called Dogs Decoded, it covered a range of topics from how dogs evolved to how they communicate with humans. While a lot of it wasn’t new to me, for instance how wild foxes can be domesticated just like dogs, some was. There is an amazing scene of a border collie living in Germany that knows more than 300 words and that can retrieve an object in another room by looking at a two-dimensional image of it. Overall the entire show was very well presented and the focus was on the science and not on showing dogs being adorable (although of course they were). And a pair of pugs were among the pets featured!

If you can’t catch it on TV, watch it on-line here. The site also has some cool interactive features, such as trying your hand at interpreting barks and matching breeds to where they originated.

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Picture Book Pals: Chick ‘n’ Pug

As a children’s book writer and editor, I’m always on the lookout for top-notch picture books. When the book features a pug, well, I’m hooked. Just reel me in. Chick ‘n’ Pug by writer/illustrator Jennifer Sattler is such a book. The story begins with Chick is in the henhouse reading his favorite book, The Adventures of Wonder Pug, for the 127th time. Desperate for his own adventure, Chick sets off and comes across a sleeping pug, whom he takes to be a real Wonder Pug. Like most pugs, this story’s pug is more interested in sleep than adventure. Chick tries to rouse him to action, but Pug soon topples back into dreamland. In the end, Chick proves to be the hero when he chases off a feline intruder.

The illustration in this book are wonderful. They capture pugs perfectly, right down to the way they scratch. The story I was less than thrilled with (and not just because a chick shows up a pug). Like many picture books these days, it had a lot of tongue in cheeks asides meant more for the adult reading the story than the listening child. And, as an editor, I caught a big boo boo. Contemplating life in a henhouse, Chick says, “I mean, laying eggs all day? Pecking in the dirt? What kind of life is that?” Except Chick would never be laying eggs since he’s a he not a she. Seems like the pug wasn’t the only one sleeping on the job.

Copyright Jennifer Sattler

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My Dog Tulip, the Movie

A few weeks ago I read My Dog Tulip, J.R. Ackerley’s memoir about his high-strung Alsatian, in anticipation of the release of the animated film by the same name. Because the film has a limited release I wasn’t sure if I’d get to see the movie in the theater or have to wait for NetFix. Luckily it’s playing in Philadelphia this week only so I scooted into the city on Saturday.

The animation, done by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, a husband-and-wife team, was wonderfully fluid and full of vitality (much like Tulip). Unlike a lot of current animation, the drawings aren’t smooth and and polished but deliberately left rough and sketchy. (The film was drawn entirely by hand, but on a computer, a Wacom tablet.) Tulip comes to life on the screen, jumping and barking and pooping. In short, being a dog. Paul Fierling says, “We wanted to make a film about real dogs and real dog behavior.” That they did.

Having so recently read the book, the story—about Tulip’s 15 years with Ackerley—was fresh in my mind. The film has the memoir’s same episodic spirit, telling not so much a linear story as relating major events as man and dog quickly become inseparable. We see Ackerley (voiced by Christopher Plummer) battle with cold-hearted vets until he finds the right one (Isabella Roselini). He tussles with his sister Nancy (Lynn Redgrave) over who will win Tulip’s heart (guess who wins), and he attempts to mate Tulip with other Alsatians—to no avail. (Tulip does bear a litter of eight pups but the father is a dog of no pedigree). And, yes, you get to see the dogs mate, if that’s your thing. Tulip lives an amazingly long life for such a large breed (16 1/2 years) and her death is treated in a matter-of-fact way.

The point of the book and the movie is that dogs can give you what no one else can: Complete, all-encompassing love and devotion. (That’s if you don’t own a pug. Pugs expect your love and devotion. And they get it! ) I highly recommend this movie. Go see it!

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Pugs in Black

My 6-year-old nephew J has always been a bit afraid of Pablo. I could never understand why. I already had my pug by the time J was born, and his older sister M has never been perturbed by Pablo’s antics.  I got a clue when J was about 3 or 4 and old enough to express his fears. “Pablo’s an alien,” he’d tell me. “He’s got three eyes.” This became his mantra whenever he saw the dog. Three eyes? Who knows what he means by that. But the alien bit? He wouldn’t be the first Earthling to see the ET resemblance in pugs.

Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of Men in Black I and II, certainly did, which brings us to our next pug-featured movie. I remember watching the first Men in Black in the movie theater, dragged there against my will because as a rule I don’t like Hollywood blockbusters. This was 1997 and I was pugless, the wrinkly-face snufflers not yet on my radar. That was soon to change. Sitting in the theater and eating my popcorn, I quickly fell under the movie’s spell. Then came the scene where Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones—don’t you think he looks a bit like a pug?) and Agent Jay (Will Smith) approach a kiosk which holds a strange-looking man and a pug.  Agent Jay takes one look at the man and says that he’s in the worst disguise he’s ever seen. At that the pug pipes up, “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my furry little butt.” The dog, Frank, is really an alien in pug disguise. Watch.

Frank has a much bigger role in MIB II, becoming Agent Jay’s partner Agent F. Even with a pug in a major part, I have to admit I prefer the original. The second movie does have Frank singing the disco lover’s favorite “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Take a peek.

Frank was played by the talented canine Mushua and his voice provided by actor and puppeteer Tim Blaney. In the beginning Frank was supposed to have a posh English accent. Thank goodness the filmmakers wisely decided to go with a classic NY voice.

MIB III is due out in theaters in May of 2012. And it will be in 3D. Will Frank the pug make an appearance? Stay tuned.

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It’s a Pug’s Life—and Dogumentary

After talking about My Dog Tulip and the animated film that was recently just released and is based on J.R. Ackerley’s book by the same title, I thought it only fair, this being a blog primarily about pugs, to post about movies that feature our wrinkly-faced friends. The first one up is A Pug’s Life: The Dogumentary (2006). It was originally aired on PBS stations and that’s where I first saw it. Now it’s available on dvd, and, of course, on Netflix. Save yourself the money, though, and watch it for free here. The whole film lasts about 45 minutes (including a few short commercials).

http://o.snagfilms.com/film.swfWatch more free documentaries

Even an avid pug-lover as myself could not give this documentary a paws up. Pugs there are, yes, and they are as adorable and varied as the breed itself, so watch it for them and them alone. As for the rest, well, where do I start? I echo the criticisms found on Netflix. The movie jumps around and touches on so many topics—show dogs, pug rescue, therapy dogs, senior pugs—yet never explores any properly or in depth. The people interviewed rarely have meaningful things to say about their pets and usually just coo about how wonderful pugs are. Yeah, we know that, tell us something we don’t. And there are long sections where pugs are barely shown at all, such as when the owner of a dog salon takes us on a tour and shows the camera a basset hound being groomed and every breed of dog being  pampered—except a pug. All in all, the film is a disappointment, especially considering the rich subject material. Michael Moore where are you when we need you?

I give this movie: 2 paws (and only because of the pugs)

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