Written and Illustrated by Andrea U’Ren
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001
Mike didn’t know much about dogs when he got his puppy. He named it Pugdog, just because.
The plot in a nutshell: A new dog owner copes with a new fact about his dog Mike takes Pugdog to the park, to chase squirrels and roll in the dirt and play games together. He gives Pugdog knucklebones and big belly rubs and calls him a good boy. But when Pugdog goes to the vet with a hurt paw, Mike is surprised to learn that Pugdog is a girl. Mike radically changes the way he treats Pugdog, telling her that belly rubs, knucklebones and rough play in the park isn’t ladylike. He takes her to a dog salon, where she is bathed and perfumed and dressed in a girly dog outfit, which she hates. At the park, Mike stops her from chasing squirrels and insists on just a brisk walk. He even points out a ladylike poodle as an example. Pugdog grows increasingly unhappy and manages to run away from Mike for a full-on romp in the park. When Mike finds her again, he realizes that she was happier before and he tells her he’ll change. The ladylike poodle tries to make friends with Pugdog and when Mike finds out that it’s a boy, he realizes he has a lot to learn. This is the first book from author/illustrator Andrea U’Ren. Being a pug fan, of course, it was the title that grabbed me first. Although the book isn’t about a pug, it is a really wonderful story with a great message about gender bias and stereotypes, wrapped up in an adorable drooling and smiling face. I was totally willing to put Mike’s lack of dog gender knowledge on the ‘suspension of disbelief’ shelf because we don’t know how much time had passed between getting Pugdog and finding out she was a girl.
I loved the artwork, especially the representation of Pugdog, who looked to be a cross between a French Bulldog and a Boston Terrier. Because she spends so much of the early part of the book happy and smiling, there’s a real emotional impact in the picture that shows her depressed and unwilling to do anything but lay in bed. And then you realize how many people have been through similar experiences, being forced to live a life that runs contrary to who they are inside and the impact is even more strongly felt. When Mike embraces Pugdog for who she is at the end and realizes that the fault lies with himself and his expectations, it’s a great conclusion to this story. And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that what you enjoy is part of who you are inside and doesn’t bend to others’ expectations of you.