Helpful PuppyTitle: The Helpful Puppy
Author: Kim Zarins
Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully
ISBN: 9780823423187
Pages: Unpaged
Publisher/Date: Holiday House, c2012.

All the animals helped out at the farm—
all except the puppy.
“I want to help out too!”

With those few words, Kim Zarins begins a rollicking journey through the farm as puppy explores all the possible ways the other animals help. But he can’t lay eggs like the hens, he can’t pull the cart like the ox, and he can’t give milk like the cow. Even the sheepdog claims that he’ll be able to help someday, but not now. In text that has some rhyming meter but isn’t uniform in its scheme or rhythm, it provides interesting listening. At the very least, it keeps both readers and listeners on their toes, but it might have flowed better if she’d been more consistent. For instance:

“Then the puppy visited the cow.
The farmer squirted the milk into a pail.
“Can I make milk?” he asked.
The cow replied, “Of course not. You’re a male.”

Next the puppy saw some sheep and cheered.
Yippee! I can give fur, like you give wool!”
“Na-ah-ah-ah,” the sheep baaed.
“You’d look silly sheared.”

The real stand-out is the ending, where we learn that the puppy’s job is to give love, which he does unconditionally. Emily Arnold McCully’s watercolors are a thing of beauty and you can’t help but fall in love with this spirited little pup. The book itself makes me think of a more stylized remake of the Pokey Little Puppy, with the bright colors of the farm distinguishing feathers on the hens, whiskers on the cat, and tiny flies buzzing around the cow’s tail, although the boy inexplicably changes shirts for dinner. I love how the two page wordless spread shows a boy and his dog and the uncomplicated joy they provide for each other. Every little child who has a dog will agree that this book captures that spirit extremely well in the pictures, so long as they can look past the slightly awkward text and focus on the very obvious message.