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Children's LiteratureAGERANGE: Ages 7 to 9.
Third-grader Fran and her puppy, Hercules, have a lot in common. Most importantly, both have a hard time controlling their impetuous behavior. Fran's teacher keeps telling Fran, "I'm at the end of my rope with you." Fran's pregnant mother tells Fran that they may not be able to keep Hercules because "I've had it with that dog. Either he gets trained or he's out of here." Hercules does learn to behave after Fran takes him to "puppy kindergarten" where he practices the crucial skills of "sit," "stay," and "heel." And Fran, who will lose the coveted part of Princess Penelope in the school play if she does not act more like a princess in the classroom and on the playground, realizes that "[i]f Hercules could change, so could she." However, Fran's behavior--unlike that of Hercules--goes beyond youthful exuberance to calculated, selfish meanness: she puts a roadkill dead toad in a classmate's backpack, injures a smaller child by shoving him at the water fountain, and cheats shamelessly at tetherball. It is hard for the reader to like Fran, who is indeed the "big bully" that the other children proclaim her to be. Still, the parallel between puppy training and Fran's own efforts at self control sends a hopeful (if overly optimistic) message that even deep-seated moral flaws are corrigible. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.