Book: Enzo and the Fourth of July Races
Author: Garth Stein
Illustrator: R.W. Alley
Age Range: 6-8
I like the previous books about Enzo very much (see reviews here and here). But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races I LOVE. Enzo is a cute little dog who lives with a girl named Zoe and her race car driver dad, Denny. The books are told from Enzo's perspective. In this installment, Enzo accompanies Zoe and Denny to Pine Cone Speedway for the Fourth of July Races. Denny will be competing as usual. And Zoe will be competing for her first time in the Kids' Kart Challenge. If she can overcome the hit to her confidence that comes from overhearing a boy scoff at the idea of a girl competing, that is.
There's so much to love about this book. It's about how you need to have confidence in yourself to succeed, and how no one else can give that to you externally. It's about the rewards of working hard, and about how you should pay attention to people who might have useful information (even if they are not in conventionally "important" positions). And it's about how girls can, in fact, accomplish anything they set out to do.
Of course regular readers know that I am very sensitive to books that are didactic. But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races manages to teach these growth mindset-inspired lessons without the tiniest hint of being message-y. I think Garth Stein pulls this off by keeping the viewpoint of the book squarely in Enzo's determined paws. Enzo isn't capable of thinking in didactic terms, and readers won't be, either. Enzo is just observing what Zoe and Denny do, with a few reflections on how they feel, and trying to figure out how he can support his family. It's brilliant.
The book also highlights fun aspects of the fact that the narrator is a dog. Enzo has learned a bit about people since his puppy days, but he still has a decidedly dog-centric view of the world. Like this:
"This is what I love about the racetrack: the roar of engines, the smell of fuel and rubber, the dirt on everyone's faces, and the look of intensity in their eyes as they work on their cars to make them the fastest of the weekend.
And I also like that sometimes someone drops a hot dog and doesn't notice."
There's also a great spread in which Zoe and Denny are both qualifying at the same time. Enzo runs back and forth between them until he is tired and panting, observing: "They don't realize how much work it is for me to look after them!" You just have this feeling that dogs really think that way.
R. W. Alley's illustrations of Enzo and his family are warm and pleasing. The illustrator of recent Paddington books brings the shaggy Enzo to life perfectly.
One other thing I love about this book is what a great dad Denny is. When Zoe (temporarily) backs out of the Go Kart race he tells her: "A wise man once told me there is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose." But he also tells her: " I respect your decision, and I love you whether or not you race." I kind of wanted to hug him right there.
Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is long and text-dense for a picture book. I would recommend it more for first and second graders than for younger kids. Despite being long, to me (and I am not at all patient these days) it didn't drag on at all. Every page and paragraph was necessary to the plot. Because the vocabulary is relatively straightforward, I think it could work as a read-alone book for first or second graders, or for a classroom read-aloud (perhaps over a couple of days). Certainly my first grader had no hesitation whatsoever in assigning Enzo and the Fourth of July Races to the "write about this book" stack.
Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is a new favorite in our household. Highly recommended for home or school use!
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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