Book Review: The Buddy Files series by Dori Hillestad Butler

There are times when I get annoyed with the idea that every book for young readers has to have a sequel or be part of a series. Then, there are other times when I like the idea of character continuity between books. Dori Hillestad Butler’s The Buddy Files series is definitely the latter. Yes it’s a series, but each book stands on its own merits, too.

early chapter series with dogBuddy (the dog formerly known as “King”) and Connor Keene (his new young owner) are characters with whom kids can become fast friends. Catherine counts herself as one of them. The Reading Tub received The Case of the Fire Alarm from the publisher a little while ago. I was surprised how many times I had to wave it under her nose. After she took the bait, though, Catherine finished it in one sitting, then brought me the book and asked if we had any of the other titles depicted on the back cover.

Needless to say, when The Case of the Lost Boy (a Cybils nominee) arrived about three weeks after we read the first book, I had to wait in line to read it! Lost Boy is actually the first book in the series (Fire Alarm is #4). As Catherine’s reaction demonstrates, though, these are not books you need to read in any particular order. There is more background about how Buddy came to be Connor’s dog in Lost Boy, but Buddy retells his story (without going overboard) in Fire Alarm.

What you do miss by reading another book first is the background on Connor’s family situation. For children of divorce (and their friends), this is what will be the grabber for them. Connor lives only with his Mom and they have recently moved from California to Minnesota, where his mom is the new principal at Four Lakes Elementary. Connor isn’t happy with the move and wants to go “home.” He misses his dad and his friends. The theme is there, but it’s not in your face, so it is a story accessible to everyone.

The other theme that I like is that Buddy – in addition to being a canine detective – is  a therapy dog. When Connor and his Mom visit the pound, they pick Buddy in part because he has the qualities you need for a dog who will work with children. He’s mild mannered, obedient, and patient. Buddy himself is a little bit worried, but he is thrilled when he realizes that the Keenes have moved into his old neighborhood.

Buddy is our narrator, and he tells the stories very well. He talks to the reader in a way that we can understand – as though we are looking at events and situations through his eyes; but he speaks to the other characters as you would expect a dog to talk: with barks and arfs. It subtly adds the question how do I communicate what I know in a way that encourages the kids to think about conveying information.

Periodically Buddy stops to list – literally – what he knows and what he doesn’t know. My guess is that kids don’t realize that he is teaching them the difference between fact and opinion, but that is exactly what he is doing. Using lists is a wonderful tool and gives young readers some examples of critical thinking and creative problem solving. It also gives them several logical spots to regroup and, if they struggle with comprehension, catch up. If you are reading the book aloud, these spots let you naturally stop and ask the reader “what would you do” before moving on to see what Buddy did.

The Buddy Files is a series of transitional readers that will appeal to dormant and underground readers alike. The plots have realistic situations, lots of action, and great visual descriptions. This is a great independent read for kids ready for lightly illustrated chapter books, and is also fun to read aloud to a group of mixed-age kids. The books have plots that have the kind of “comfort story” elementary readers like to have. Here are the plot summaries …

King is not just an ordinary dog, he’s a canine detective. Right now he’s in the p-o-u-n-d (don’t say it!) with a mystery on his hands: what happened to his human Kayla and her dad. King is working on an escape plan when fate intercedes. Connor and his mom adopt King – whom Connor renames Buddy – and take him home. Buddy thinks he’s gone to heaven because they live in his old neighborhood, so he can start looking for Kayla! But before that happens, Connor goes missing. How can King/Buddy find someone he just met? Read our full review.

Buddy is excited about his job as a therapy dog at school. When the fire alarm goes off on the first day of school, some of the students are convinced it is the ghost of Agatha Curry. Buddy is skeptical, but his superior detective skills tell him something is going on. That’s not enough, Buddy needs clues. As if that’s not enough, in the middle of the case, a young student goes missing! Buddy has the boy’s scent but he’s stuck in Mom’s office. Two cases and no way to solve them. Now what? Read our full review.

As noted above, The Buddy Files: The Case of the Fire Alarm is a 2010 Cybils Nominee in the Early Chapter Book category. The thoughts in this post are my own, and do not reflect the opinion of the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book panel.

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