By Maureen Tai and Ben, 31 December 2020
It’s YOUR story, kid. You can color it any way you want.Petey, the Bad Guy who turns good
Chastened and changed: what a fitting way to end what has been a sobering, eye-opening and challenging year. I’d always assumed that the wildly popular Dog Man books were commercially successful yet held scant literary value, a bit like mass produced fast food which gave you a satisfied tummy for an afternoon, but zero long term nourishment. In one of the long hours of being a housebound, responsible, non-Covid spreading citizen, I begrudgingly read and, to my surprise, enjoyed Dog Man: Grime and Punishment, the latest Dog Man adventure that I had gotten Ben for Christmas (at his insistence). It had all the hallmarks of an unforgettable read: clever and punchy dialogue, an outlandish yet compelling storyline, unusual yet loveable characters, bold and brightly coloured pictures, and most importantly (for me anyway), emotional depth and wisdom. I stood corrected, Ben was triumphant, and the last blog post for 2020 was decided.
M: How many Dog Man books have you read?
B: (counting on fingers) Seven.
M: That’s it?
B: They’re always checked out at the library, so …
M: But you really wanted Grime and Punishment right?
B: Yes, because it looked interesting.
M: Well, tell me a bit about the story, without giving anything away.
B: There’s Dog Man, how he even started when Petey the Bad Guy said there was a bomb, and Petey pretended he was innocent, he said “Ahhh, help, bomb!” and then the police dog and one of the policemen came to defuse the bomb but they cut the wrong wire and got blown up. The cop’s head was dying and the dog’s body was dying, the doctor thought there was no hope but then the nurse had an idea to sew the dog’s head to the cop’s body and he became Dog Man.
M: Don’t you think that’s kinda creepy?
B: Well, it’s impossible in real life really, but I don’t think it’s creepy.
M: Alright, back to the book. What happens in this adventure?
B: There’s a new mayor in town and they had an award ceremony for the Chief of Police and Dog Man, but Dog Man was digging up the Mayor’s roses when he wasn’t allowed to. Dog Man jumped all over the Mayor and the Chief and slobbered all over them, and caused a lot of destruction, so the Mayor fired Dog Man.
M: Dog Man is out of a job and is this the sad part of the story?
B: I guess so, yeah.
M: Did you cry?
M: But everyone else in the story cries, right?
B: Yeah, but I only felt a little bit sad (giggling).
M: OK, and then what? What did the newly unemployed Dog Man do? Or is there a subplot somewhere?
B: There’s this character called Li’l Petey who is a small orange cat who lives with Dog Man and his robot, 80-HD. He’s basically a clone of Petey.
M: You mean, the Bad Guy?
B: Yeah, but Li’l Petey turns Petey into a good guy and calls him Dad, so they’re like father and son. And also they look alike.
M: And then?
B: Li’l Petey makes a cat google for Dog Man so he can get his job back by pretending to be a cat. When he clicks his ears, he makes a cat noise and Li’l Petey writes “I’m a Cat” on Dog Man’s shirt.
B: The rest of the story is full of spoilers…
M: I guess we won’t be able to go into detail then. Whose your favourite character in this story?
B: Li’l Petey because he’s nice and cute.
M: You mean, just like you?
B: (smiley face)
M: Why do you like Dog Man books so much?
B: They’re interesting and most of the names of the people are puns, like 80-HD is ADHD, and it’s also funny, not a lot of fart jokes, sometimes they have them, but not really.
M: Were there a lot of difficult words in this book?
B: A few (flipping the pages), like ‘tyranny’, ‘oppressor’, ‘surreptitiously,’ and ‘quantifies’. So if a kid is reading it, like if they are 6 or 7 years old, they’ll need to ask an adult to tell them what that means.
M: Thanks Li’l Petey, … I mean, Ben.
B: OK mum. Can I have some screen time now?
For ages 8 and up.