Paws, by Kate Foster
The doggy star of this heartwarming and gently humorous book is Kevin, a sweet-natured cockapoo. Kevin belongs to Alex, the eleven-year-old narrator of this engaging story for middle grade readers, which celebrates kindness, inclusion, creativity and the unconditional love between humans and animals.
Alex is in his last year of primary school, and as the story starts he is worried about two things: starting high school, and never having a real-life friend. Alex is autistic, and for him the concept of change is particularly unsettling. The noise and clamour of the playground often proves too much for him, and he'd much prefer to be indoors, quietly sketching pictures of dogs.
When Alex sees a poster advertisement for Paws, an upcoming dog-show, a plan forms itself in his mind. What if Kevin can win a prize at the dog show? Surely then the cool kids at school will notice him and want to be his friend? This seems like a foolproof plan - but of course nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Alex comes to understand that sometimes friends can come along in the most unexpected of ways.
This book made me smile so many times. Alex's bond with his dog Kevin is just so sweet - Kevin helps Alex feel calm and regulates his emotions when everything just gets too much. With Kevin, Alex can just relax and be his true self.
Many children around the same age as Alex will relate to his sense of apprehension at leaving behind what he is familiar with, and looking ahead to transition to highschool. For many it can be a daunting prospect, and young readers will feel encouraged to realise they are not the only ones to feel this way.
This story is full of hope and heart and humour, told in a wonderfully authentic and honest voice, and I loved it and found it hard to put this one down. I loved seeing the way in which Alex came to understand the true meaning of friendship, and the way his artistic talents were celebrated.
Mostly I loved the heroes of this story: the playful adorable dogs, who offer infinite friendship and joy to their humans.
Published by Walker Books