School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—Calvin's teacher posts a writing assignment: "What I Want So Badly I Can Taste It," forcing the fourth grader to examine his heart's most pressing desire. He realizes that what he wants more than anything, a dog, comes with some major obstacles. His single mom is against the idea, which is understandable considering she is also the provider for an emotional teenager whose parents skipped town. Stella is resentful toward Calvin, and she also has allergies. Luckily Ledward, Calvin's mother's boyfriend, believes "every boy needs a dog." When he takes him to visit a dog shelter, Calvin is immediately drawn to Streak, an abandoned herding dog. Although he can't take her home without his mother's permission, he is inspired to rewrite his essay until it's so persuasive that he just knows his mom will give in. Salisbury's characterization will intrigue readers who have limited knowledge of Hawaiian culture, and the theme will pull at their heartstrings. With serious subplots dealing with divorce and abandonment, Dog Heaven teaches that life isn't always a bowl of cherries. Small black-and-white drawings appear throughout.—Christine Johanson, District Elementary School, Mahopac, NY
A school assignment about persuasive writing frames this appealing third offering in a series set on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Along with his classmates, Calvin is at first hesitant to write on the topic, "What I want so badly I can taste it," as assigned to them by well-liked teacher Mr. Purdy. However, when he realizes that what he really wants is a dog like the one he had when his father was still around, he finds unexpected aid in persuading his mother from Ledward, her boyfriend. A somewhat sweeter tone takes hold in this latest in the line-up, in which Calvin's relationship with Ledward deepens and the adult's role modeling helps him to understand more about his responsibilities at home. Rogers's black-and-white, shaded illustrations are again a welcome complement-in particularly, the playful, dynamic depictions of Streak, the dog on which Calvin eventually sets his sights. A healthy dose of humor, such as Ledward's pet pig that rides with him in the front seat of his jeep, will keep readers engaged. (Fiction. 7-11)
Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
When his teacher assigns the writing of a persuasive paragraph describing something you want so badly you can taste it, Calvin knows just what he will write about. Calvin wants a dog! His Mom is dead set against the idea because Calvin is not responsible enough to care for a pet and Stella, the teenager his Mom has taken in, is allergic to pet dander. Calvin does have an ally in mom's boyfriend Ledward. He takes Calvin to the shelter, a place he calls dog heaven, and it is there that Calvin falls hopelessly for a rambunctious pup he quickly dubs Streak. Now all he has to do is to convince Mom and Stella that he and the dog are right for each other. There is nothing like a boy-and-his-dog story to capture young readers and this one has a sympathetic hero and a loveable dog. Other issues are woven seamlessly into the plot and deal with Calvin's parents' divorce, Stella's abandonment by her mother, and two school bullies Frankie Diamond and Tito. Each is deftly handled and does not take away from the central issue. Lighter moments are to be found in Calvin' s imaginative ways to freak out Stella and Ledward's jeep-riding pet pig. Deeply rooted in Hawaiian landscape and culture, this a light, breezy read that will have Calvin fans delighted to read of his latest adventure. One small quibble is the fact that Leward sometimes speaks in broken English that seems stereotypical and unexplained. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
Read an Excerpt
Everyone in class held their breath as Mr. Purdy dangled a squirming cock-a-roach over the brand-new resort he'd made for Manly Stanley.
Manly Stanley was our class pet, a centipede.
A large centipede.
Rubin could hardly stand it. "Drop it, Mr. Purdy, drop it."
Manly Stanley's new home sat on Mr. Purdy's desk. It was an old, cleaned-up fish aquarium. Inside, a big craggy rock and a branch of twisty driftwood sat on a beach of white sand. There was even a marooned pirate ship for Manly to explore.
I could see him looking at me through a cannon port. "Calvin, my man," he seemed to say. "S'up?"
I'd captured Manly Stanley in my bedroom and brought him to school, and now look at him. What a setup.
"Centipedes are predators," Mr. Purdy said, looking down at Manly Stanley. "They use their claws to capture and paralyze their prey."
Yow! I hoped that cock-a-roach could run fast.
But it was hard to imagine Manly Stanley as a predator. I mean, all he did was hang out. He slept. He looked at you. He scurried into the pirate ship when he wanted some privacy.
The crowd squeezed in around Mr. Purdy.
"Move," someone said. "Let me see!"
"Look how Manly's checking out that bug."
"How come you're putting that poor little cock-a-roach in there, Mr. Purdy?" Shayla asked.
Shayla's mouth fell open. "Eew, sick!"
"It's what centipedes eat, Shayla. Spiders, too, and earthworms."
Julio scoffed. "Not yuck, Snoop. Yum. You don't remember when you ate that worm?"
I spurted out a laugh. Julio called her Snoop right to her face. But Snoop fit, because she was nosy. And the story about her eating the worm was true, but she only ate the head. Back in kindergarten, some kid brought a soup can full of compost worms for show-and-tell. At lunch, he stuck one into her tuna sandwich when she wasn't looking. Shayla chomped it down. All us guys thought we were going to die from laughing so hard.
Shayla squinted razor-slits at Julio.
Mr. Purdy dropped the roach.
It must have sensed danger, because it sprang toward the rock. "Dang," Rubin whispered. "Look at him run."
"Okay," Mr. Purdy said. "Back to your seats. Time to get to work. Nothing's going to happen to that roach anytime soon."
"Aw, man," Julio said. "I want to see Manly eat it."
Mr. Purdy clapped his hands. "Let's go! Chop-chop!"
I plopped down at my seat in the first row by the window. Manly Stanley's resort was right in front of me.
I looked out the window, remembering a pet I once had, sort of. A dog named Chewy, a beagle who liked to shred rubber slippers. But Chewy was really my dad's dog, and when my dad moved to Las Vegas to be a famous singer, Chewy went with him.
At least now I sort of had Manly Stanley as a pet. But he couldn't shake hands like Chewy, or run down a tennis ball, or curl up by my feet at night.
Sometimes I really missed Chewy.
And my dad.
From the Hardcover edition.