Defining a “peeve” as something that annoys you, and a “pet peeve” as something you just like to be annoyed about, writer and illustrator Anne Marie Hanlon Cook has created an engaging, readable fable for children, though there is a message In The Worst Pet Peeve Ever for readers of all ages.
The narrator’s plaint in this colorful tale is that her mother’s determination to keep the house clean means no company and no pets. The little girl lives happily enough with mother, father, sister and brother, but no human visitors and definitely no animals are allowed. Pets are her mother’s “pet peeve.” Keeping a neat-as-a-pin house, Mom sees no place for pets in her well-controlled environment.
Mom’s ideal pet – an invisible “dog” that doesn’t bark, has no fleas, and never goes to the bathroom- becomes her new best friend. She begins walking her non-existent dog to the park, where other real dogs mysteriously bark at it. Even some neighbors agree with the no-pet regimen, and join her with their own invisible pets.
Feeling threatened and ignored, the real animals leave the neighborhood – “no more barks, no meows, not a chirping canary” – anywhere to be seen. But in the absence of pets, where will the fleas live? Soon the insects attack everyone and everything, even Mom’s fake mink. The solution? Get rid of the fleas by giving out treats and luring the animals back. Now the family has a cat, a dog, and no peeves.
There are many lessons to be learned in this deceptively simple tale. The author is a Licensed Professional Counselor, so there is a deep psychological undercurrent to the work. In her profession, she confronts complex problems every day, and has decided to write for children, who, she believes, often see through the intricacies that adults create.
Cook uses rhyme to move her story along, making it an enjoyable book to read aloud, which gently propounds a moral to go with the cute illustrations. Don’t, she is saying, let what bugs you become what possesses and propels you. The mother in the story comes to realize that by keeping pets away from children (and herself) she is keeping the mess under control, but making her family lonely. The forlorn faces of the siblings as they look in at Mom with her friends and their virtual pets is indeed worth many textbook words about obsession and alienation.
On the downside, the illustrations for the book are very hand-drawn, seeming more like the sketchbook for professional illustrations than a final product. The illustrations are charming in their own right, and the ideas behind the illustrations are fun and imaginative – for example, 0ne clever illustration shows the three kids seeing, hearing, and speaking “no mess” – but the illustrations themselves could have been better done, which does affect the overall impact of the story.
On the whole, The Worst Pet Peeve Ever is effective in its use of rhyme and humor to demonstrate how easy it is to forget what is important by focusing on only one negative aspect of life, making this an inspiring and heartwarming book, as well as one that is instructive about dealing with one’s negative impulses. It’s a lesson that both kids and adults can take to heart, which can start a dialog about good and bad behavior.
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