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Noah Padgett and the Dog-People Paperback – September 6, 2016
About the Author
Sarah Potter writes quirky novels that slip and slide between genres. They contain elements of science fiction, fantasy, and eccentric British humour of various shades. Primarily, Noah Padgett and the Dog-People is a multi-layered anthropomorphic fantasy adventure, which will appeal to children and adults alike. The author’s inspiration for the story lies with a childhood spent around dogs, followed by her first job as a kennel assistant. Later she worked in psychiatry, hence Noah Padgett’s incarceration in a hospital for insane Canis sapiens. Nowadays she writes full-time, under the supervision of her astute, clock-watching Labrador.
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Now, first, a word from the authorial voice in my head. (Or, if you prefer, literary critic.) If asked to step into the author’s mindset for what I see as a crossover fantasy/science fiction novel for juveniles, I’d have to identify a two-pronged approach: to entertain and to impart experience. True, it’s what many authors intend, but few achieve. Given an adult reader, you might point to an internal monitor that sorts through the relevant and irrelevant, the necessary and the desired. As the parent of two up-and-coming readers—what here in the States are sometimes called AR, or accelerated readers—I’ve learned many important things about the ways in which they think. One observation I have for writers of children’s literature, as a nonexpert in the genre myself, is no bludgeoning treatment of moral situations. To excel, I think, as a children’s author requires the world-building finesse of a C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, the elan and sensibility of a Beatrix Potter or E.B. White, and a sense of whimsy wielded with the hand very like a Brian Jacques or Douglas Adams. In short, children usually know when they’re trying to be tricked into a lesson—by an author, by a parent, or by an educator. In that regard, Sarah Potter’s book conjures no literary chicanery. You don’t have to be a full-on, elf-eared fantasy fan, a science fiction “geek,” or, in fact, even a juvenile to enjoy her second novel in the space of about a year.
This book not only fetches, but it delivers delight and wonderment. In my pegging, Noah Padgett’s journey (a bildungsroman to all you fellow former or current lit majors) will appeal to the child who’s perhaps ‘graduated’ from the chapter books and style of the aforementioned White (of which Charlotte’s Web stands at the heart of his oeuvre) and one who is ready to venture into the fantastical realms built by a Jacques or the makers of the Animorphs or “Spirit Animals” series of chapter books. I can see a Riordan reader steeped in Greco-Roman mythology eagerly devouring this book, although the struggle for Noah Padgett is generally less fisticuffian than it is a gauntlet testing the mettle of one’s mental and emotional wherewithal. The Zyx dimension, which forms the strongest rib of the science fiction aspect of this novel, is nothing if not a new mythos. A world built ready for the reader to immerse himself in and, yet, not one so arcane or remote as to be unrelatable to early 21st century reality.
So, you’ve got a fabulistic framework here. A world where Canis sapiens is the top dog of species (forgive the pun), but it’s all guided nimbly along the narrative by a normal preteen boy who, like all human beings, has an imperfect and even, at times, sloppy life. His beloved puppy Bluebell has wreaked havoc in the home, then disappeared. And despite everything—despite a cranky and manipulative stepmother (to put it nicely), a father who’s away at work incessantly, and a mother’s untimely death—it’s up to Noah to mend the rift between our place and time and the Zyx dimension and its furry and, at the same time somehow human, Canis sapiens. Noah, as the Outsider to Zyx, goes through the trials of any heroic character: there’s mistaken identity, there’s friendship, there’s betrayal, there’s escape (and I don’t mean escapism) and adventure.
And, finally, there’s resolution amid the struggle. Noah’s real-world concerns of family and school come to a zenith, as does his journey to rescue his dog from the paws of one megalomaniacal pooch, who insists on absolute deference and being called Monsieur Percival Poodle. All this while Noah himself is locked into, in effect, an asylum for abnormal beings in the dog realm, where he meets several colorful representatives of the Zyx dimension. To give away more than that, I think, might spoil your meet-and-greets with canines from the larger and giant breeds through the toys. In effect, from Chihuahuas to Borzoi, retrievers, Rottweilers, and the bully breeds. Each of these characters’ personalities and foibles will likely be a smile-worthy occasion for the reader, especially if she knows her dog breeds and their attendant temperaments and sometimes-habits.
Do you need to be a dog-lover to love this book? No. You only have to be willing to accompany a human boy on an extradimensional exploration where he learns . . . well, that's ultimately for you to discover!
This book should be an enjoyable experience for accelerated readers of 8 or 9 years old who are reading at about the 5th-grade level and above. It’s an expletive-free tale with no sticky teen situations for a parent to explain and, although it’s best understood by people with at least a small grasp of British English and culture, it is not at all inaccessible to Americans or other readers of novels written in English.
My only other caveats, if they even are that, is that some impatient readers of rock-‘em, sock-‘em fantasy and adventure tales, MIGHT feel that this book lags a little bit as Noah contends with all the issues surrounding his confinement and treatment at the hospital. (Yes, it is studded with those precious character development moments that some readers dislike, sadly!) That and it might not appeal to Captain Underpants fans or other lovers of books riddled with slapstick or bathroom humor, jokiness, and high doses of inanity.
In the end, besides one normal human boy, a veritable bestiary of memorable characters awaits you. I’m at once excited, and a tad envious, that you will get to experience the Zyx dimension afresh!
I thought it was an odd flavour, not outstanding but also not bad. I suspect that may be because it suits a younger audience better, and I was expecting something dark and twisty. If it were a country it would border Never Ending Story land and the nation of Through the Looking Glass. Sarah certainly knows her dogs and has captured their mannerisms just right, from bold gestures to the slightest of ear flicks and tilt of the head.
I found the characters a delight, and though it seems aimed at the YA market, I couldn't help but feel a tad creeped out with talking dogs that do everything humans do, but just doggish. It was a bit like trying to decide if the clown doing his routine is funny and whimsical or plain wrong and worrying.
It's a very English story and assumes you'll take what you see for granted, and I think it would serve well as an accompaniment to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Sarah does indeed have a quirky, dark and inquisitive imagination.
'Noah Padgett and the Dog-People' still reflects much of that style, even though the principal target audience is probably a bit younger, this being written more as a YA crossover. There are still 'darker' moments, as well as some very humorous lines that will appeal to adults and YA both. ('There's something very unnerving about a criminally insane spaniel dressed like an overgrown primary school girl.')
It's very apparent that Sarah Potter knows her dogs - I work with dogs on a daily basis and she has got the characters' names and traits absolutely spot on for the breeds they represent in our world. The interaction between those of different breeds is just what you'd (or at least, I) imagine.There's something intrinsically funny about giving dogs / animals in general, human qualities.
I say 'our' world, for of course this tale (no pun intended) takes place in another dimension, but one that retains much of Earth's characteristics, which allows the author to mix and match fantasy with reality as she pleases, but without losing the story's focus, or unnecessarily confusing the
Yeah - if you're looking for a light, fun read with a bit of adventure, then I'd most definitely recommend this one.