Monday, May 11, 2009

Presidential Pooch: Which Puppy? by Kate and Jules Feiffer

"Sasha and Malia, I love you more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that is coming with us to the White House."

Getting a dog is a big deal for any family, but when the President-Elect announced the upcoming adoption on Election Night, the search for a pup for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue became a national news cycle event. In Kate and Jules Feiffer's brand-new Which Puppy? (Paula Wiseman Books), everyone in the unemployed pet population gets ready to audition for the job. Talk about a good gig! It is such an appealing prospect that some animals are tempted not to let the lack of canine DNA be a handicap for their applications.

"I'd make a fine puppy," squeaked a guinea pig named Sam.

"I'll start barking! Listen to me," barked a turtle named Marple.

Keisha the kitten practiced barking, jumping up on people, and drooling. "How do I look?" she asked.

Even real dogs argue over the job qualifications.

"Long!" "Shaggy!" "Doesn't shed!" "Looks gorgeous on TV!" they argue. Finally the oldest Bassett hound in Mississippi decides to take charge of the competition and sets up some challenges--a race, a loudest barker contest, and a jumping-through-hoops competition for the would-be First Dog. But at the end of the day, the winning mutt has to be disqualified for fighting with another dog. Then a Neapolitan mastiff from Maryland suggests a lottery, and pups from everywhere line up to take a number. But surprise, surprise, the lucky lottery winner turns out to be--the mastiff from Maryland. "No, No, NO!" howls the judicial Bassett hound. "This slick trickster is no presidential pup!"

Finally a roly-poly historical hound pushes his way to the front of the crowd and declares that ancient custom decrees that the First Dog must have two rings around one paw, a heart-shaped spot on his face, an eye that winks, and a tail that tells time! The applicant pool is evaluated carefully, but no one candidate seems to have all the right stuff. At last the selection committee finds one pup with a ringed paw, one with a heart-y spot and a winking eye, and one, who looks suspiciously like Sam the guinea pig, with a tell-time tail capable of clockwise rotation, and decides to send all three for a presidential audition.

Once the three reach the Executive Mansion and slip inside, they nervously follow a long, red carpet down a portrait-lined hall to the First Family's sitting room. There they see the President and First Lady in matching green armchairs, heads buried in their newspapers. Between their chairs are two happy girls, seated on the rug and playing with--Oh, no, a puppy!

Too late! The two puppies and Sam turn and leave the White House, totally dejected.

"With their heads hung low, they walked out of the front door, down some stairs, and toward a fountain. They didn't get far at all before they heard voices.

Where are you going?" called out the two girls who had just moved into the White House. "Won't you come back and play? We have a puppy who needs new friends!"

In Which Puppy? (Paula Wiseman Books), the team of Feiffer and Feiffer amiably poke gentle fun at the hoopla of the presidential puppy campaign. Daughter Kate Feiffer handles the text with the appropriate tongue-in-cheek tone, while dad Jules Feiffer's familiar illustrative style coyly shows only the tops of the heads and the feet of the First Family as they choose, not the First Pup, but the First Pup's playmates, who are shown in the final illustration through the tall windows of the White House Colonnade, curled up and sleeping safely inside on that elegant red carpet.

For other timely tales of presidential pooches, see J. Patrick Lewis' First Dog, or Gina Bauer's Now Hiring: White House Dog. And for nonfiction fun, there's the classic Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets, for a glimpse at the type of mail that Bo Obama must already be getting from young fans across the country.


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