By Kimberly Marcus
Illustrated by Mike Lester
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011
$16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages
A flea chomps into the backside of big scruffy stray and causes him to lurch into the air and into the heart of an old man in this rollicking good read-aloud.
One day on a country path, a plump flea with chiseled teeth "FLIT-FLIT" flaps into a dog's shaggy fur, takes a bite of him and sets off a hilarious chain of events.
"AAROOF!" howled the stray as he jumped in the air," Marcus writes, as the dog's eyes bulge out and every part of him stiffens -- paws flex, his tail sticks up like a feather duster and his fur spikes out in all directions.
Turning the page, readers see the dog landing back first, paws up onto an old man strolling down the path. The man is launched into the air and belly flops across the fold with his nose leading the way.
"AWOOMPH was the sound as he dropped like a sack, / landing THUD! 'OH CRUD!' on an old man's back."
The man and dog then fall kersplat into a mucky green bog as two cheeky little cardinals on the opposite page point their wings at them and nearly fall over laughing.
Then "SQUISH-SQUASH" the man and dog slog out of the muck. The dog shakes his hind legs in a blur, and the man empties mud from his boots and laments that his nice walk has come to an abrupt and messy end.
Suddenly, "CLAP-BOOM" echoes through the air, the sky darkens to gray and rain begins to pelt down on the man and the dog. Seeing a general store up ahead, they race over and burst through the door, spraying mud everywhere.
The clerk waves his hands and shouts at them to go away, but there's no stopping a crazed, itchy dog. He peels around the aisles, biting at his fir as he goes and kicking his legs to scratch his neck, until finally he skids to a halt.
"JUMP-THUMP," the dog sees what he needs but it's far out of reach: a jar of flea powder on the very top of a store shelf.
Catching up with the dog, the man immediately understands. "Now I see," he says. The dog has assumed the beg position and can barely contain himself. His tail wildly sweeps the floor, and his eyes are big and urgent.
With no time to waste, the man reaches up and grabs the jar of powder, and they take off down the aisle. "AWOOSH flew the door, and the clerk shouted, 'SHOO!' / So they both skittered out / as the sky turned blue."
With a flick of the powder and a "KACHOO!" from the flea, the dog, just like that, is free. "AAAH-ROO," the dog sighs long and slow, as his eyelids sag like floppy blinds and a long, easygoing smile curves up his snout.
But where is that little flea jogging off to in mid air?
"REEOW!" Looks like another collision! That scrappy little flea has landed mouth first on the tail of cat and look at that cat go. Watch out lady in the "flip-flopped" hat! Scritch-scratch, looks like another match.
And the dog and the man? Well, with a "SLURP-SLURP" and "'Woof!' and 'Whee!" off they ran down the path. A perfect ending for two lonesome fellows -- thanks to a bite, an itch, a thwack on the back and a pesky little flea.
Reading this book is like being swept into an exhilarating game of chase. And like the dog and man, Marcus and Lester prove a perfect match: their frenetic style and slapstick humor leave you breathless, happy and ready for another go-around.