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My Favorite Pets

by Clara Jaydin Russell (2020-05-19)

Homework reports were never so fun.

In Jeanne Birdsall’s latest picture book, readers meet Gus on the opening wordless spread. With the biggest grin possible, he’s handing his teacher not just the report due in class, but also a gift wrapped in a bow. Readers soon learn why he feels the need for atonement, and the trip there is entertaining in many directions.

The book’s text is presented as if it’s Gus’ own handwriting on lined notebook paper; readers are getting a personal glimpse at his report. “My favorite pet is sheep,” it opens. Gus lives on a farm with 17 sheep in his yard. He lays out facts about the animal, and Harry Bliss’ cartoon illustrations extend the text with deadpan humor. “A girl sheep is a ewe,” Gus’ report says. “If you say, ‘Hey, Ewe,’ she won’t answer. Even if you shout it.” Here, Gus is hanging from a tree limb by his T-shirt, desperate to get down, while sheep stare helplessly at him.

Gus gets up to some delicious mischief: He attempts to trade his little brother for a lamb; puts his brother’s porpoise pajamas on a sheep’s head; makes an impromptu beard out of a sheep’s shorn butt; lets sheep into the house, which ends in the mess you imagine it would; and much more. (Observant readers will notice rewarding details in Bliss’ illustrations, such as a copy of Animal Farm in Gus’ living room, all while the sheep are chomping on furniture.) Turns out Ms. Smolinski had loaned Gus a scarf, which—you guessed it—a sheep destroys. In the end, readers see her grade on his report: It’s a B+ with a quick note, thanking Gus’ mother for “the chocolates and new scarf.”

My Favorite Pets: By Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class is impish fun.

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