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Aggie and Ben

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Aggie and Ben: Three Stories by Lori Ries and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer — This is a beginning reader book that will also score big with the preschoolers when read aloud, and I hope Ries and Dormer bring us even more Aggie and Ben stories. They’re unassuming and sweet and focused on all the right details that make preschoolers and emerging readers want to squeal. This is the children’s book debut for Dormer, an editorial illustrator, and thank goodness he’s joined the club with his watercolor and ink drawings that give us interesting angles (check out that cover) and lines and frames and close-ups (Aggie pouncing after a ball from a bold, exciting perspective) as well as lovable, memorable characters. In this book of three stories about Ben’s trip to the pet store to pick any pet he wants, your favorite emerging reader will surely relate to Ben’s ponderings over the consequences of choosing one animal over another; his sheer delight at having a puppy in the home and his attempts to mimic said puppy (until the puppy takes a swig of some toilet water); and Ben’s attempts to deal with bed-time fears with his new puppy pal at his side. Again, here’s hoping for some more Aggie and Ben adventures in the not-so-distant future.

Eagle Aggies
(Can you say that 10 X fast?) Aggie Artists: Jane, Masha, Megan, and Jessa

Awards/ Honors

Horn Book Fanfare List: Best books of 2006 - December 1, 2006

Nick Jr. Family Magazine's Best Children's Books of 2006 - December 1, 2006

The Bank Street College Best Books of the Year 2006 - January 1, 2007

2007 Texas 2X2 Reading List

2007 Oregon Book Awards Finalist


Horn Book Fanfare List: Best books of 2006 - December 1, 2006
A young boy gets a dog and learns good-naturedly about pet ownership. The clean, expressive panel illustrations are as unassuming as the humorous easy-reader text, which has both the simplicity and repetition needed to engage beginning readers and the deeply satisfying story elements that will keep them coming back for more. Review 9/06. (Preschool, Primary)

* The Horn Book Magazine, starred review - September 1, 2006
"Where are we going?' I ask. 'It's a surprise,' Daddy says." Thus kids meet Ben, who goes to the pet store; buys a dog (Aggie); learns how a dog behaves; and finds a canine friend. Beginning readers have their own surprise in this book: as Ben learns about dogs, they are learning how reading works. The illustrations, primarily half- and full-page frames, direct readers from one segment of the story to the next. The spare text guides them to use words as either previews of summaries for the illustrations depending on the placement of the pictures. This kind of scaffolding is only valuable, however, if a satisfying story is revealed. It is. Three chapters, providing natural starting and stopping breaks for those used to hearing a book in one sitting, introduce a young boy trying to figure out the complexities of pet ownership. Best is the chapter in which Ben discovers that dogs and humans act differently: he tried to copy everything Aggie does until she heads for the bathroom and drinks from the toilet. A full-page illustration depicts the action; one telling line of text follows: "I am done being a dog." Kids can't be dogs, but Ben and Aggie let them know they can be readers.

E. R. Bird "Ramseelbird" (Manhattan, NY)
A boy and his dog. Children’s literature is just chock full of such pairings. Of course, when you start hitting the upper end of the age spectrum, such books inevitably lead to a dead dog somewhere along the line. So if you are squeamish, like me, you’ll find far more comfort in picture books instead. The “Henry and Mudge” set are always going to be clamoring for more doggy lit. As such “Aggie and Ben: Three Stories” fills a very real need. With simple words perfect for burgeoning readers and pictures that examine every angle and view, there is nothing complicated about this book. It just goes to prove that sometimes the most unencumbered stories are the most satisfying.

Broken into three small tales, the first story in this book is “The Surprise”. One day Daddy informs Ben that they’re going somewhere to get an unexpected delight. The next moment the two are in a pet store to look for someone perfect. Ben is very good at weighing the pros and cons of each potential animal. In the end, he decides that a dog would be best, and the best dog of the lot is the one that makes him laugh. In story number two, “Just Like Aggie”, Ben pretends to be a dog himself as he and Aggie explore the home. Aggie has some pretty funny ideas about what to drink, where to sleep, what to chew, and where she belongs. Fortunately she has Ben nearby to straighten her out. Finally, in the “The Scary Thing” Aggie is afraid of various noises and shadows that appear in Ben’s room. In the end, however, Ben (who starts getting a little freaked out by his perpetually on notice pup) is able to convince Aggie that the bedroom is safe. “There is nothing scary. Just me and Aggie.”

Author Lori Ries (a dog owner herself) has given the world a very rare item. Picture books with simple words for early readers may sound like they’re a dime a dozen, but try locating one for kicks. Go on. You can find plenty of small books like “Frog and Toad” or “Alien and Possum” but try locating a picture book that uses the same simple vocabulary. In 2005 the best book to do this was the truly wonderful, “A Splendid Friend, Indeed”, by Suzanne Bloom. This year, the honor falls to “Aggie and Ben”. Which is to say that Ms. Ries has that very rare ability to write simply and wittily. At one point in the book, for example, Ben gets Aggie home for the first time and sets about imitating her every move. Then we come to the following: “Aggie goes into the bathroom. I go into the bathroom, too. Aggie sees the toilet.” Beat. “I am done being a dog.” You don’t come across too many droll picture books these days. Credit “Aggie and Ben” then with an understated sense of humor and the ability to hand the viewer some sweet and honest moments.

Sometimes an author will trump their illustrator with their superior wordplay. Other times an artist will put a writer’s works to shame with their command of a scintillating palette. In “Aggie and Ben”, however, I was relieved to find an equal pairing of talents. If Lori Ries is queen of the sublime passage then Frank Dormer is her undeniably talented king. Drawn in pen and ink with watercolors on (and here I simply MUST quote this to you), “140-lb. cold-press Winsor and Newton paper”, Dormer isn’t afraid to move beyond the expected. He moves away from single panels or enclosed spreads. Sometimes a character will be featured quite simply against a white background. Other times they’ll appeal in a full-page or half-page square. Even better, Dormer likes to shakes things up a bit by changing his angles. At one point you’ll be looking down at the characters in the book. The next moment you’re at the bottom of a hill and Aggie is racing straight towards you, hell for leather. The simple lines and soft colors are distinctive enough to keep the average reader from confusing Dormer’s style with anyone else. Wanna know the kicker? This is his first book. How amazing is that? Talk about an artist “getting it” right from the get-go.

Undoubtedly you could pair “Aggie and Ben” with another new pooch book. My personal favorite is the remarkably wonderful, “Let’s Get a Pup, Said Kate” by Bob Graham. Ries’s story deals with simpler issues and characters, but that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t just as engaging in its way. More sophisticated (and palatable) than “Biscuit” and lots of fun to look at, “Aggie and Ben” has no choice but to become loved by child that finds it. There is a very great danger that you may miss this book as it flies under the radar. See that you snatch yourself a copy at the most opportune moment.

Publishers Weekly, starred review - July 31, 2006
This volume of three linked tales marks Dormer's children's book debut; an editorial illustrator, he adds a patina of hipness to Ries's (Super Sam!) sweet-natured, understated storytelling. The book opens as narrator Ben and his father head to the pet shop. The boy weighs the pros and cons of several candidates, as the pet store owner asks if each is the pet for him ("I think. A mouse would run through a tube. A mouse would sit on my hand. A mouse would hide in my pocket. But a mouse might get lost. 'I do not think I want a mouse, ' I say"). The charm comes through in the space between what the boy thinks and what he actually says, the silence filled with dormer's panel illustrations. Ben picks a cute puppy he names Aggie. In the next tale, Ben tries to bond with Aggie by mimicking her behavior; this experiment comes to an abrupt close when Ben spots Aggie drinking from the toilet ("I am done being a dog"). The final story finds Ben and Aggie working out their mutual bedtime fears. "There is nothing scary," Ben coos on the final page as he snuggles his dog. "Just me and Aggie." Dormer's watercolor-and-ink drawings possess a schematic edginess and a sophisticated sense of framing. He pitches his pictures at just the right level for his audience, and skillfully keeps the visual pace percolating by interweaving broad humor (e.g., the toilet scene) with vivid action (in one frame, Aggie seems ready to leap off the page in pursuit of a ball) and moments of authentic tenderness. It's an impressive and original effort, and bodes well for a sequel.

School Library Journal - July 1, 2006
Ben lives every child’s dream when Dad takes him on a surprise trip to the pet shop to select the animal of his choice. After contemplating his options and considering the sometimes-humorous consequences of each one ("… a snake might make Mommy scream"), he decides on a dog. Readers will chuckle through the chapter "Just Like Aggie" as Ben mimics the pup’s routine of panting, sniffing, and playing chase but draws the line at drinking out of the toilet. Funky but tender, Dormer’s pen-and-ink cartoons with watercolor washes add depth to the simple story and provide that perfect illustration-to-text match that one seeks in successful easy readers. If at a loss when seeking another recommendation for graduates of Cari Meister’s "Tiny" books (Viking) and lovers of Cynthia Rylant’s "Henry and Mudge" books (S&S), try Aggie and Ben. This unassuming tale will provide a welcome addition to any collection for emerging readers.