Sibling Pet Rivalry

Princess Puffybottom…and Darryl – Susin Nielsen and Olivia Chin Mueller, Tundra Books, 2019

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As long as there are siblings reading books, or having books read to them, the rivalry between them will remain a popular topic for children’s books.  Here the siblings are a cat and dog pair, the cat being a pampered and only child of a partially off-screen and unnamed couple of stylish women, at least it appears they are stylish from our cat’s eye perspective of the richly drawn and colored pictures.  You may appreciate this book if you love cats and/or dogs, but you really don’t have to in order to empathize with both Princess Puffybottom and the perfectly innocent canine whom she fears will replace her.

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Books about the anticipated arrival of a new baby often emphasize the rewarding aspect of this experience, one which may elude an older sibling for months or even years as everyone lavishes attention on the addition to their family.  Susin Nielsen and Olivia Chin Mueller do not overplay the analogy between humans and animals here.  Princess Puffybottom is unmistakably a cat.  “Life was good,” she thinks, because she lounges in a softly lined bed surrounded by cat toys, and spends more time sleeping on couches than a child ever would.

But when Puffybottom’s idyllic life is interrupted by the arrival of an annoying dog, whom she characterizes as “horrible,” “disgusting,” and “an animal,” the cat’s reactions seem a little more like that of an angry child, even if she is more articulate in describing just how awful the new “sibling is.” Yet even the most distraught older sibling would be unlikely to try Puffybottom’s desperate but calculated approaches to getting rid of the dog.  She tries to hypnotize him, as well as tricking him into destroying her owner’s lovely red stiletto heels. (A child older enough to figure out how to do that would likely not feel intense resentment at a newcomer.)

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Nielsen’s text is understated and funny. Children will relate to its simplicity and adults will understand all that is left unsaid about their children’s feelings. Chin Mueller’s pictures are incredible, both simple and lavish.  The colors are bright and realistic details stand out in every scene, from the delicate floral tattoo on a woman’s arm to the painting on a wall featuring a fierce orange tiger behind bright green leaves.  The most interesting choice by the illustrator is to depict the animals’ owners in several scenes as incomplete figures.  We see their torsos but not their heads, giving the small animal, or child’s, perspective.  What we do see of them is specific to every scene, whether their boots, jeans, and skirt as they hold the new intruder Darryl on a leash, or the seated couple in a domestic scene which really inflames Princess Puffybottom: one woman, wearing bunny slippers, pets the injured dog, while her companion crosses her legs and rests a hand on her enlarging middle.

One other sure to be remarked upon feature of this lovely book is the identity of the couple: same –  sex and interracial. They appear, as they should, without comment. To the pets, as to our children, they are just the people who care for them.  Princess Puffybottom…and Darryl contains unstated progress, along with distinctive artwork portraying a constant part of children’s lives.  There are many reasons to enjoy this book.

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