Elvis and the Underdogs

( 1 )

Overview

Benji Wendell Barnsworth is a small ten-year-old boy with a big personality. Born premature, Benji is sickly and accident-prone and has a tendency to faint?a lot. He's at the hospital so often, he even has his own punch card. That is, until the day Benji wakes up from a particularly bad spell. Concerned for Benji's health, the doctor offers him two options: wear the world's ugliest padded helmet or get a therapy dog.

Benji chooses the dog, of course. But when a massive crate ...

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Elvis and the Underdogs

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Overview

Benji Wendell Barnsworth is a small ten-year-old boy with a big personality. Born premature, Benji is sickly and accident-prone and has a tendency to faint—a lot. He's at the hospital so often, he even has his own punch card. That is, until the day Benji wakes up from a particularly bad spell. Concerned for Benji's health, the doctor offers him two options: wear the world's ugliest padded helmet or get a therapy dog.

Benji chooses the dog, of course. But when a massive crate arrives at Benji's house, out walks a two-hundred-pound Newfoundland. And that isn't even the strangest thing about the dog. He announces that his name is Parker Elvis Pembroke IV. That's right, this dog can talk! And boy, is he bossy. Having a bossy dog can come in handy, though. Elvis brings out the dog lover in the most surprising people and shows Benji that making new friends may not be as scary as he once thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Emily Jenkins
“That Elvis is a dog of dogs: the smartest, the bravest, the funniest. Also, the biggest. No wonder Benji’s adventures with him are hilarious and action-packed! Such a very fun read.”
Chris Rylander
“It’s impossible not to fall in love with Elvis and Benji. And here I thought I was the only person who actually had conversations with his dog…”
Booklist (starred review)
“A funny, unabashedly feel-good boy-and-dog story. . . . This crowd-pleasing debut is definitely ready for prime time.”
Publishers Weekly
Ten-year-old Benji Wendell Barns-worth is constantly in and out of the hospital with a smattering of illnesses and allergies; he faints often, and he recently had an epileptic seizure. Getting a therapy dog—a gigantic, talking, Doritos-eating Newfoundland named Parker Elvis Pembroke IV—spares Benji the humiliation of wearing a safety helmet at all times. Elvis, as Benji dubs him, is confident and very well-spoken, and his influence helps Benji assert himself around his well-meaning but suffocating mother, as well as seek adventure with his new friends: Taisy, the pressured daughter of a celebrity athlete, and Alexander, a new student with a “total recall brain.” This children’s book debut from Lee, a writer and producer on Disney’s Shake It Up sitcom (and clearly a dog lover), is suffused with optimism, despite Benji’s many health problems. Benji comes across as down-to-earth and sympathetic—without being pitiable—and the underlying theme about strength found in companionship gives the story just enough gravity. Light contributes b&w digital spot cartoons, not all seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Sally Woffard-Girand, Union Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (May)
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Benji tends to be sickly, with unexpected fainting spells. He is also the target of ridicule in school, and is the favorite target of class bully Billy Thompson. So when Benji has to choose between an enormous, ugly helmet and a service dog, it is a no-brainer—or is it? Such an opening might lead readers to expect a humorous family and school story with a boy-dog friendship at its core. Instead, the book veers off into the frankly fantastic when the dog turns out to be a 200-pound Newfoundland who talks. From this unlikely turn of events grows a tale that Benji himself might characterize as “wackadoo.” It is a quirky and slightly uneven take on the weird pet storyline, as well as on bullying and learning to be yourself. In addition to the talking dog scenario stretching credibility, some of the characters seem more than a little caricatured. Benji’s parents, for instance, are considerably overdrawn. His mother is contrived and dramatic to the point of histrionics in her reaction to his every crisis. In contrast Benji’s friendships with Taisy and Alexander seem more naturally rendered. The first person narrative is sometimes funny, and Light’s spot illustrations offer additional humor. In all, however, this one does not quite deliver on its whimsical initial promise. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami; Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Ten-year-old Benji has always felt like a misfit. He is small and has health concerns that include fainting in stressful situations. He has also become the favorite target of the class bully. When he suffers a seizure at school and ends up in the hospital, his only alternative to wearing a protective helmet is to get a therapy dog, to which his mother reluctantly agrees. However, Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, a Newfoundland, is not just a therapy dog; he is a talking dog whom only Benji can hear. With his arrival, Benji's life starts to change dramatically for the better. This lighthearted, enjoyable read features a variety of young people dealing with issues such as a pushy father and an overprotective mother. With the help of a wise and self-possessed pup, three "underdogs" become friends as they share some adventures, and the story has enough twists along the way to keep children interested.—Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Lee's debut novel, a quirky if formulaic take on bullying and friendship, falls short in its description of the partnership between Benji, the narrator, and Elvis, his talking service dog. Benji Barnsworth suffers from a host of ailments and faints under stress--which happens often, since he's Billy Thompson's favorite bullying target. When Benji has a seizure, he trades his new helmet for a service dog: a huge Newfoundland with a smart mouth. Elvis isn't exactly man's best friend, but his presence allows Benji to befriend Taisy, an overwhelmed athlete with an ex–football pro father, and Alexander, a "human GPS" with a photographic memory. Benji's witty, slightly cynical voice and close family support are the most believable aspects of an otherwise implausible book. His friends are caring but stereotypical; Asian-American Alexander's intellect borders on caricature, and Taisy's relationship with her father follows sitcom formula. The service-dog aspect reads like an afterthought. Even Benji's doctor uses "service dog" and "therapy dog" interchangeably despite their different functions, and Benji is unable to say what training Elvis received, which seems remarkably incurious, given their relationship. Elvis' job is so unclear that he could just as easily be an ordinary dog dispensing tough love. Ultimately, the thin plot is far-fetched, even for a story about a talking dog, and readers aware of the true role of service animals will be annoyed by the inaccurate portrayal. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062235558
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/4/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 43,176
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Lee is a writer and producer on the TBS sitcom Ground Floor. She was also a writer and producer of the Disney Channel's number-one-rated kids' show Shake It Up for all three seasons and is the author of four humor essay books. Elvis and the Underdogs was Jenny's first book for children. She lives in Los Angeles with her 110-pound Newfoundland, Doozy (and yes, it's a toss-up as to who's walking whom every day).

Kelly Light lives in New York but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant pink dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons and Sunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.

Kelly has illustrated Elvis and the Underdogs and Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service by Jenny Lee, and the Quirks series by Erin Soderberg. This is her first picture book.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2014

    Really good

    Hard vocab for third grade.

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