The Imaginary Veterinary: Book 1: The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Dan Santat, 214 pp, RL 3

Along with Adam Gidwitz's phenomenal trilogy that begins with A Tale Dark and GrimmSuzanne Selfors's Imaginary Veterinary series are very special in my house because they are the first full-fledged novels that my son read on his own, with great enthusiasm AND voraciousness, proving that he has the stamina and drive to move into a new realm of reading. I read and reviewed A Tale Dark and Grimm back in 2011 and waited eagerly to introduce it to Griffin. But, The Sasquatch Escape, book 1 in the Imaginary Veterinary series, was his find -  made easier, no doubt, by the brilliant illustrations of a favorite of ours, Dan Santat (for my reviews of his picture books and graphic novels, click here.) And what a great find it is! Selfors's series is PERFECT for getting readers to take a step beyond Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones, especially readers who are fond of graphic novels and heavily illustrated diary-type books like Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Imaginary Veterinary series has just the right amount of illustrations in every chapter and a plot that will grab the interest of almost any reader.

At the start of the story, ten-year-old Ben Silverstein and his Chinese striped hamster, Snooze, leave his home in Los Angeles to spend the summer in Buttonville with his retired grandfather. He is anticipating an extremely boring summer, but on his first night there as Grandpa Abe drives him to his tiny, nondescript house on Pine Street, Ben sees a strange, huge bird in the sky. He tries to describe it to Abe, but a bird the size of a helicopter with a tail like a rope leads Abe to call Ben, "My grandson, the storyteller." Another glimpse confirms it for Ben - that's no bird, it's a dragon. A chance (well, not really chance, since Buttonville is such a small town) meeting with Pearl Petal, a tall, talkative girl from town who also saw the dragon, leads Ben on a path that begins with what Barnaby, Grandpa Abe's ace mouser, drags in.

Convinced that Barnaby has caught a baby dragon, Ben turns to Pearl for help when he learns that, aside from a new "worm doctor" in town, the nearest veterinarian is a four hour drive away. At the grocery store, Ben overhears Mr. Tabby, the strange assistant to Dr. Woo, the "worm doctor," placing an order for  a can of fish broth, a can of condensed milk and two thousand  boxes of kiwi-flavored jelly beans, he decides to take a chance on Dr. Woo, who has set up practice in the abandoned button factory.

At the factory, Mr. Tabby has the kids sign a very funny liability waiver before examining the dragon hatchling. Unfortunately, Ben forgot to bolt the front door after entering the factory and a sasquatch being treated for foot fungus escapes.  With Dr. Woo on an emergency call and Mr. Tabby needing to tend to the hatchling, the only option is to hand Ben and Pearl the Sasquatch Catching Kit, a wooden box containing chocolate bar, a whistle, a fog bomb and detailed notes on how to capture a sasquatch. Ben and Pearl's hunt for the free-spirited hairy beast is hilarious, especially when brought to life by Santat's fantastic illustrations. The search ends happily, although there is a tense meeting between Ben and Pearl and Dr. Woo while she and Mr. Tabby decide how to best handle young interlopers who now know their secrets. Fortunately for Ben and Pearl, Dr. Woo decides that she could use two young assistants and many more adventures. 

Besides an inventive, creative story fueled by perfectly complimentary illustrations, Selfors adds several pages of additional information to each book. The "Creature Connection," gives historical and mythological background to the imaginary creatures in the story, while the "Science Connection" explores everything from the habits of reptiles to why some things float and others sink to how to make rain in your own kitchen! Both the "Creature Connection" and the "Science Connection" end with story ideas that are sure to get creative minds working. Finally, the "Creativity Connection" includes a recipe for chocolate pudding (a favorite of the sasquatch) and instructions on how to make your own mirror as well as a Yin and Yang symbol.

The Imaginary Veterinary Series

Book 3: The Rain Dragon Rescue - coming in paperback June 6, 2014

 Book 4: The Order of the Unicorn - coming July 22, 2014

Book 5: The Griffin's Riddle - coming February 25, 2015

Source: Purchased, all three books in the series!


Jessica said...

We just read the first one of these and it was quite fun! Not particularly pithy, but a good time, nonetheless! The characters are very likable, and there is humor running through the story that is hard to resist. There is just a hint of background sadness (what is going on with our hero's parents? why does he feel the need to tell stories?), but it is not emphasized or explored in any depth--it is just part of who he is right then. I thought it was a great find for my 7-year-old who usually reads more complicated stories but sometimes would prefer lighter fare.

Tanya said...

Great to hear from someone who has read the book! And, I have to agree with everything you said. I, too, wondered why Ben had to have the kind of mother he did and have parents who are in a rough patch as an way of getting him to Buttonville. I wonder if this plot point come into play in later books in the series? That said, I think that what this book does and how it does it is perfect for readers just starting to tackle longer chapter books on their own. I love being able to read more complex stories out loud to my son so that we can discuss them together and am happy for him to read something that might not need explaining...

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