HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Martha Walks the Dog
Author and Illustrator: Susan Meddaugh
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, reprinted in 2003
ISBN-13: 978-0395904947 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0395904943 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0618380053 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0618380051 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 4 – 8
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Meddaugh, Susan. Martha Walks the Dog (published in 1998 by HMH Books for Young Readers). Martha is a mild-mannered dog who in the first book of this series, Martha Speaks, derives the power of speech from alphabet soup. In this fourth book of author Susan Meddaugh’s Martha series, Martha loves her daily walks. She enjoys sniffing and scratching with her pals down by the hydrant. When someone calls her a “good dog,” she ingenuously replies, “What other kind of dog is there?” But one day while taking herself for a stroll something is different. A house down the street has been sold, and the “For Sale” sign has been replaced by a new sign which says, “Beware of Dog!” Always curious, Martha investigates and discovers that there’s a new dog in town, a blustering tough dog named Bob who’s big and mean.
Bob’s bearded owner is just as ferocious, berating his pet with the words, “Bad dog Bob! Bad dog!” Even Martha reluctantly concedes that he may be a bad dog. Is there anything that she can do to help protect her buddies and herself from the savage bully and to restore peace to the neighborhood? As in previous volumes, Meddaugh carries a lot of the story forward through the dialogue which appears in hand-lettered voice bubbles. Her illustrations humorously convey the characters’ personalities and feelings, showing a wide range of emotions in both canine and human faces. There are some important lessons to be learned. Martha’s big mouth gets her into trouble as she yells at Bob, “You mangy mongrel/crummy cur/big baboon,” but she finds that a local parrot who has learned to mimic her words “good dog” is far more effective at controlling the bully’s behavior.
Young animal lovers may need to be warned that not every snarling bad dog can be as easily transformed as Bob into a kindly good dog. However, everything about the book is extremely well done, and Meddaugh successfully sends the message that animals and people best respond to kindness. With its message about the power of words, the book would be a good starting point for a discussion of just what it means to call someone “Stupid” or “Dumb.” The fact is that we can all learn to speak a little nicer and help to change others through kindness. Other books in the series are Martha Blah Blah, Martha Calling, and Martha and Skits. There are also some related chapter books such as Perfectly Martha in a “Martha Speaks” series.