Whether you’re struggling to find that perfect gift or just craving a cheery story to put you in the mood for Christmas, this is the book for you. The star of the show is the cutest little ball of fluff you could imagine: a would-be monster who saves the neighborhood --- and the holiday season.
THE CHRISTMAS DOG is a little Yorkshire terrier with the character of an imp who always shows up at just at the right time. It’s hard to envision how anyone could ever call him a mutt, but that’s what old Betty Kowalski thinks he is. Betty is the grandma who lives next door to Jack Jones, a young man who has become the neighborhood nightmare. Prim and proper, Betty is usually neighborly and friendly to everyone, but “that Jack character” has gotten her all fussed up.
Ever since Jack moved in, he’s been tearing his house apart and leaving bits and pieces of it in his driveway for everyone to look at. A pink toilet has been sitting in his backyard for weeks, but the trailer in the front yard is worse. It’s piled up with muck and junk and then covered with a blue tarp, roped down by some clear containers with a mysterious liquid inside. Wondering what that liquid could be keeps Betty up at nights, thinking maybe it's a toxic substance or maybe Jack is working on a meth lab. She feels that Jack is a jerk because he works with his power tools all night long and yells at his neighbors. And now his mangy mutt seems insistent on relieving himself right on top of Betty's favorite dogwood.
Betty seems to have become grumpy in her old age. She’s a widow, alone for the holidays; can we blame her? It makes an old woman feel a little forlorn to face the holiday season again --- especially when her neighbors aren’t so friendly. This dog of Jack’s is also driving her mad because he's muddy and keeps coming over to her place. Betty is ready to move out, and her neighbor Katie is right there with her, but Betty’s daughter, Susan, urges her to wait. With that in mind, Susan offers Betty the same advice that her mother once gave to her: “Kill him with kindness.”
The holiday spirit that Betty can’t seem to find comes back to her when her granddaughter, Avery, shows up on her doorstep. Avery is there to spend Christmas at grandma’s, and Betty feels honored to have her. Still, the dog just might ruin things for everyone --- it’s because of his mischief that Betty has to keep running over to Jack’s house. Their holiday will become one to remember when Jack finally tells Betty that this mischievous little mongrel isn’t actually his. Avery has become far too attached to little Ralph, who now appears to be theirs for the holiday.
The stress of Christmas combined with the thought of owning an animal is making Betty feel sick inside, but her granddaughter teaches her to see the situation in a new light. Pastor Gordon also helps put the holiday in perspective as his sermon reminds everyone of what the holiday means. In the process, Betty rediscovers her Christmas spirit and finds some unexpected neighborhood friends.
Overall, in THE CHRISTMAS DOG, you’ll find a pleasing conventional story of holiday delights and finding love where you least expect it. Though the outcome is predictable and the action sparse, it's a fitting book for the holidays and just the right thing to entertain you while you sit by the fire. With a leisurely pace, you can read along easily while listening to Christmas music and eating fresh-baked cookies. The book should calm your mind enough to get you out shopping and putting up lights, and it would make a great old-fashioned gift for many people, especially older dog lovers, grandmas and neighbors.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on September 1, 2009