Chapter 16
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A Pirate’s Tail

A clever early-reader series sets sail in Jessica Young’s All Paws On Deck

Imaginations will be stretched and punning skills will be tested in All Paws on Deck, the first entry in Jessica Young’s new early-reader series, Haggis and Tank Unleashed. Written at a second-grade reading level, All Paws on Deck is the story of two dogs, Haggis and Tank, who cure a case of the mid-morning doldrums with an impromptu pirate adventure.

First we meet Haggis, a curmudgeonly Scottish terrier having a slow day: “Haggis was bored. It was too early for lunch. It was too late for barking at the mail carrier. And the cat next door had gone inside.” Tank, his fun-loving Great Dane friend, was entertaining herself just fine, reading A Sea Dog’s Adventure and taking a ride in her Waggin’ Wagon. But when Tank realizes that Haggis is bored, she re-christens her wagon The Golden Biscuit, and the two of them set sail on a grand pirating adventure.

At first Haggis is reluctant, so Tank employs her “best begging skills” and gives him a captain’s hat, which flatters the little Scotty’s authoritarian sensibilities. The hat “fit him perfectly,” Haggis decided. “He felt dapper. He felt snazzy.” The hat, along with the brand-new nickname Captain Scurvy, put him in the mood for a seafaring adventure. Captain Scurvy and his first mate, Bootleg Bonnie (nee Tank), encounter a treasure map, a sea monster, and a rather impressive assortment of imaginary pirate gear before realizing that the treasure they seek has been home in their kibble bowls all along.

All Paws on Deck is written in the style of a graphic novel, an approach which will appeal to older readers. But because the dialogue bubbles are laid out in an easy-to-navigate format, this early reader can also double as a read-aloud. While the story itself will appeal to pre-readers, its best educational features will be lost on a listener or a very beginning reader, for All Paws on Deck is chock-full of homophones and other word play. Young drops in some of this playful language subtly, but she parlays some of it into full-on gags: when Bootleg Bonnie is learning to “Aye, Aye!” her captain, for example, the bit takes a turn into full-on “Who’s on first?” territory.

The word play is both funny and educational—and a reader’s guide at the end of the book quizzes children about the more challenging aspects of the story’s various puns. There is also a great deal of pirate jargon, good practice for early chapter-book readers who are new to the experience of reading a book with an unfamiliar subject or setting and who are learning new things via pleasure reading.

The illustrations in All Paws on Deck have a classic feel overlaid with a clean font and a very modern format. It’s an attractive little book full of funny dialogue from two very appealing doggie protagonists. Prereaders will be entertained by a read-aloud full of animal characters, a pirate theme, and silly sound effects and scenarios. Older children reading for themselves will enjoy the graphic-novel layout, the sophisticated word play, and the character development of the two dogs.

The second Haggis and Tank story, an archeology and paleontology adventure called Digging for Dinos, will be released next month.