Summary: My Pal Rodger is a lovely story with gorgeous illustrations and I recommend it for reading with your kids. I think they'll get a real kick out of the “dog vs. boy” plot with a happy ending, and that it will spark some great discussion about pets (and autism as well, if you're so inclined).
My Pal Rodger is the second book in the Adventures of One Sock series. The author, Roy Ruiz, has written these books based on true events in the life of his family but focused on his son, Racer. Racer is the eponymous One Sock, so-called because he always seems to be missing (you've guessed it) one of his socks.
In this instalment of the series, Dad has brought home a dog from the pound called Rodger. Unfortunately, Rodger takes a very strong liking to One Sock's favourite toy, an alligator called Alligator. This puts Rodger and One Sock very much at odds with each other. Rodger would love nothing more than to play with Alligator, and One Sock is determined to prevent the dog from having anything to do with his toy. On a trip to the Grandparents for Thanksgiving, disaster befalls Alligator – twice! There is however a happy ending, boy and dog are reconciled and become friends.
I enjoyed the story very much. There are more 'boy and his dog' stories than you can shake a stick at, so it was refreshing to read a true-life account that was more of a 'boy hates dog' story, at least until the end. Many children are very apprehensive about dogs and I think reading My Pal Rodger with their parents would lead to some good discussion about how to prepare for a new pet, what ground rules would apply (for both kids and pets) and what sort of activities would promote a healthy relationship between the pets and the kids.
One Sock's love for Alligator reminded me strongly of another fictional character's love for his transitional object, but in Kevin Henkes' Owen, it is a blanket that the little boy mouse loves. For me, the sweetest parts of My Pal Rodger were the times when One Sock was interacting with his toy – promising to protect him, his excitement when Grandpa gave Alligator a new eye and the two buddies building a sand castle together on the beach.
The illustrations by Natalie Silva are phenomenal – the vibrant colours will appeal to kids and although the people in the book are drawn in a highly stylized way, their emotions and character are still captured effectively. I loved that Racer's missing sock is always on the page somewhere, finding it would be a fun activity for little ones as their parents read the story to them.
I have two recommendations for the author to consider, either when preparing additional reprints of My Pal Rodger (I hope there will be many!) or when he is writing future instalments in the Adventures of One Sock series. The first is in relation to Racer's autism. Mr. Ruiz has clearly made the conscious decision not to have One Sock's autism featured in the story. I think this is perfectly fine. Regular, every day things happen to autistic people as well as those of us who are neurotypical, and shoe-horning in a reference to autism when it doesn't arise organically would come across as weird. However, I would love for him to consider adding a foreward or afterward that included a couple of things:
- Because I know One Sock is on the spectrum, there were behaviours he exhibited that struck me as autistic in character – his fixation on his toy alligator, his difficulty in accepting change, the challenges he had regulating his emotions and his high levels of anxiety. I think Mr. Ruiz missed a wonderful educational opportunity by not sharing how One Sock's autism impacted his ability to handle certain situations.
- Some links where folks who don't know much about autism could go to obtain further information.
The second recommendation I have is with respect to editing. I did find a few typographical and grammatical errors in the text but I shared these with the author and the text is being updated to fix them. My point isn't in relation to this and it's also not a criticism of the book's editor – I'm sure she did a wonderful job. I suspect (I could be wrong and if I am, I apologize) that Mr. Ruiz exerts a lot of editorial control over his work and I would encourage him to try and relax that hold some more, if he can. The very best writing is usually achieved when editors are allowed to do their job. For example, look at JK Rowling's Harry Potter books. The first three instalments, written and published before she became really famous, are very tightly written. After that they became pretty bloated, full of little sub-plots and anecdotes that often do little to further the story. I believe that Rowling is a good writer but that the later instalments in the Potter series were not edited well. As I read My Pal Rodger it felt like I had discovered a rough diamond, that with a little more polishing in experienced editorial hands could end up being Tiffany-grade jewellery.
Disclaimer: the author's partner, Lisa, is a long-standing and very good friend of mine.