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Captain Bull and the Calico Avengers Paperback – February 26, 2014
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Taking the struggle between cats and dogs to the next level, this story presents a world of anthropomorphic animals where dog pirates prey upon cats (and other species, but mostly cats), with none worse than Captain Bull. When two captured kittens escape with the help of a pup, it sets in motion a plan to return and defeat the vile captain.
Interestingly, despite the surface conceit of pirate animals and their victims, the setting and its presentation of the implications of the actions are otherwise fairly straight-forward. I was expecting something initially a bit more cutesy, but still, I thought it worked and was an interesting way of engaging in an Age of Sail adventure without ignoring what pirates really were, yet still maintaining a young child-friendly story.
That said, this story doesn't come across as didactic at all. It just presents a nice classic tale of wronged men (well, wronged kittens) and their quest for justice. For such a relatively short book, it does a good job of weaving in several fun plot threads together and maintaining a generally brisk but not breathless pace. I think kids will enjoy seeing the various Age of Sail and pirate tropes explored with the animal characters along with the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter to set mood.
The writing is descriptive without being overwhelming for the general audience, though it's challenging enough that it may be a bit too much for the youngest chapter book readers. That fact, combined with the intensity of some of the action, makes this book probably best for slightly older kids, I'd say 7-9 or so.