Jessica Young’s third entry in the Haggis and Tank early-reader series, Howl at the Moon, is another funny and punny romp through the backyard—and imaginations—of two doggie best friends: Haggis, a Scottish terrier, and Tank, a Great Dane.
Haggis is the calmer and less adventurous of the two. When the story opens, he’s enjoying some peace and quiet in the yard as he does his daily stretches. Then he’s interrupted by Tank, who is practicing her howling skills. “I’ve always wanted to howl at the moon,” Tank says. “You’re howling at the sun, Tank,” Haggis points out. “I’m just warming up,” Tank says. But Tank’s howl needs work—her “A-GOO! A-ROODLE! GAH-ROO!” sounds more like a Model-T Ford horn.
Urging Tank to take a break from howling practice, Haggis lends her his book, Castles of Scotland. The book gives boisterous Tank an idea: she will fly them both to Scotland in her airplane, the Fearless Flyer (a plane that looks suspiciously like a wheelbarrow with a ladder for wings and a spinning deck brush for the propeller).
Haggis tries to escape when he realizes Tank has never flown before, but it’s too late. With a “Brup-brup-pup-pup-pup-pup-p-p-p,” they’re off.
Once they land in Scotland, they come upon Foggy Bottom Castle and venture inside. Their story takes a Scoobie Doo turn when they don’t see anyone else in the castle, even though a table has been set for high tea and a book about werewolves called Howl at the Moon is lying newly-abandoned, face-down in a chair. Who was reading this creepy book? Are the two friends brave enough to discover what secrets the castle holds? And will Tank ever learn to howl properly?
The Haggis and Tank stories, illustrated by James Burks, are told in a graphic-novel style which will increase their appeal to many young readers. The target audience is first- and second-graders, but the suspense is extremely mild, much closer to silly than to scary, so even very young readers will enjoy Haggis and Tank’s exploits.
For readers who have mastered the basics, the Haggis and Tank books are filled with examples of how much fun words can be. Loaded with comparative homophones, onomatopoeia, and puns, each page becomes an opportunity for linguistic discussion and delight. When Haggis and Tank first enter Foggy Bottom Castle, they spy a portrait of a kilted doggie titled “Prince Pants-a-Lot” and note, “That’s funny—he’s not wearing pants.” When they come across a long table set for high tea, the canines serve themselves a cup. “Sugar?” Haggis asks. “Thanks! That’s sweet of you,” Tank says.
The real subject of Young’s charming series is the transporting power of imagination and the joy of language. Early readers and their parents will love catching a ride on the Fearless Flyer with the lovable Tank and her trusty copilot, Haggis.
Kathryn Justice Leache is a freelance writer who lives with her family in her hometown of Memphis. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis.