The Bookworm: A dog’s tail and tale; exploring your body

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“MVP: Most Valuable Puppy”

  • By Mike Greenberg and Stacy Steponate Greenberg
  • c. 2018, Simon & Schuster Children
  • $17.99, $23.99 Canada; 32 pages

Your dog is a great ball player. You throw a ball and he’s good at chasing it down. Sometimes, he even gives it back but when he doesn’t, you know that half the fun is having you chase him. It’s part of the game and, in the new book “MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” by Mike Greenberg and Stacy Steponate Greenberg, that’s something everybody can play.

“MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” authors ESPN Host Mike Greenberg and Stacy Steponate Greenberg.

Phoebe will never forget the day she was adopted; the day her family came into the shelter was “the very best day of” her life. “The Girl with the Curly Hair” chose Phoebe first, scratched Phoebe’s belly and that was that: Phoebe’s pink tail swished and they were BFFs. Phoebe then moved in with the whole family, including a mom, a dad, and a baby; she’s really excited for the day the baby can finally walk, because then he’ll be able to play, too.

In the meantime, Phoebe has her “sister” to play with. The girl with the curly hair likes to throw a ball for Phoebe (one of Phoebe’s favorite things) and she likes to give Phoebe treats (another favorite thing). They also like to go to the playground together – and that’s what they were doing when some kids invited the girl with the curly hair to play soccer with them.

“MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” by Mike Greenberg and Stacy Steponate Greenberg.

Phoebe knew how to play soccer, so she joined the game. Then the kids decided to play football. Phoebe and her “sister” figured they could give that game a try. Someone threw the ball, the girl with the curly hair caught it, and she started to run. Phoebe ran alongside her, until the girl with the curly hair tripped and dropped the ball.

But Phoebe knew what to do then, too. She grabbed the football and ran one way. Then she ran the other way. Then she ran back, where she noticed her “sister” was feeling sad. Still, Phoebe had the ball and the kids asked the girl with the curly hair to help them get it.

Chasing is a lot of fun, whether it’s chasing a ball, a little white dog, a squirrel, or a summer afternoon with a new group of friends …

“MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” is a quirky little book, starting with Phoebe’s pink tail. There’s no explanation for it – it’s just pink and it feels gratuitously girly.

While it’s true that ESPN host and author Mike Greenberg, along with co-author Stacy Steponate Greenberg, has written a cute story but it may be too cute and without much substance or clarity. Phoebe’s sister is sports-minded, for instance, but doesn’t seem to know much about football; she’s confident but overreacts to a dropped ball. Add in a squirrel (Right. Of course), and this girl-and-her-dog feel-good becomes overshadowed by an off-the-cuff tone that may not satisfy.

Yes, the artwork will appeal to smaller children, even if the story doesn’t. Yes, proceeds for this book go to charity. Even so, “MVP: Most Valuable Puppy” is a good premise gone meh, and might not be worthy of chasing down.

“Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body”

  • By Gavin Francis
  • c. 2018, Basic Books
  • $27, $35.50 Canada; 283 pages

Change, they say, is good. It’s the opportunity for growth. It’s a chance to take a breath, reassess, reconfigure. It makes the landscape look fresh; it also muddies the waters. And yet, you bounce back and, as you’ll see in “Shapeshifters” by Gavin Francis, so does your body.

Summer, spring, fall, and winter. Whether by looking through your window or through your newspaper, you know that seasons come, change happens, and each new thing is connected to all others somehow.

“Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body” author Gavin Francis.

Ever since medical school, Gavin Francis has found such connections – especially those within the human body – to be things of “reverence, the unfolding of a kind of joy … ”

Take, for instance, our very beginnings, and birth. On a mother’s part, says Francis, pregnancy is proof that we aren’t in charge of our own bodies, and it’s physically hard on the woman who endures predictable, but sometimes unpleasant, changes. Of course, a fetus isn’t exactly having fun during pregnancy, either, and in between the two, there’s puberty, which is infamously difficult. When that hits, says Francis, puberty wreaks drastic changes in a teen’s body and in his mind, and those changes can extend well into a person’s 20s.

Speaking of age, no matter how many skin-care products you use, darn it, your skin will never be restored to that of your youth. There’s an explanation for the old “hair turned white overnight” myth. And because there are different kinds of memory, there are different ways of remembering.

“Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body” by Gavin Francis.

Natural change is one thing, but Francis also touches upon change we cause ourselves: we can ensure that our genders match our brains, for example. We can sleep, or not, or need more if we fly across time zones. We can diet, take drugs, and work around lack of limb. We can laugh; “ … most cultures,” Francis says, “have stories of muscle-bound strongmen;” and one in four Americans has a tattoo. And just so you know (because about a quarter of all tattooed folks regret their ink), the removal of said ink hurts way more than it did when you got the tat to begin with …

Don’t let the contemplative tone of “Shapeshifters” fool you. Don’t let it lull you into believing that this book is like a meditation. Really, it’s more like being at a fireworks extravaganza: every few minutes, there’s a chance to say “Wow!”

Now, admittedly, author Gavin Francis writes with a pronounced sense of serenity, and a feeling of reverence that he admits to, early in this book. That belies its liveliness: here, you’ll read topical philosophy and history before you meet pseudonymous patients who must learn how the human body deals with various kinds of physical and mental changes, welcomed or not. It’s in the ensuing and inevitable facts and observations, as Francis shares them, that you’ll have abundant chance to be genuinely amazed.

We humans, as you’ll see in “Shapeshifters,” are predictable, unique, and resilient. We are alike and different and change, as they say, is a good thing.

And so is this book.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.