In Abe to the Rescue, Diana Duncan offers a rhyming picture book that follows Charlie, a boy who is bullied at school but ultimately is saved by his loyal pup.
Abe is a puppy when he comes into Charlie’s life. As Abe grows, Charlie’s father becomes concerned about Abe’s lack of bravery and inability to take direction. Abe is frightened by other dogs and doesn’t listen to commands. But one night, Charlie confesses to his father that he’s being bullied at school, and when Abe overhears, he takes matters into his own paws. The next day, he sneaks into a classroom when Garth, the head bully, is the only one present, passes gas and slips back out, leaving the stench to be blamed on Garth when others arrive.
Later, at soccer practice, Garth tackles Charlie without cause. Abe’s response? “He tackled Garth and shook him hard;/ then dumped him on the bare schoolyard.” Charlie ends up winning the game and securing friends through his success.
Although Charlie is no longer bullied, the takeaways are unclear. While telling someone about his problem was a good idea, Charlie doesn’t address the bullying on his own, and neither do his parents. And Abe’s approach involves his own form of bullying. Charlie’s new friends are also a complication: They had earlier joined Garth in mercilessly teasing Charlie, but the book doesn’t address their bad judgement or swift change of heart.
The illustrations sometimes appear two-dimensional, but the retro feel will appeal to some readers. While the poetic form is catchy, the rhythm can be uneven: “The referee looked unimpressed / and said, ‘Look, guys, I try to do my best.’ ” The meter in this couplet would be much better without “try to.”
Despite the uplifting premise of Abe to the Rescue, the means of Charlie’s redemption— trickery and mild violence—seems inappropriate for young readers, ultimately raising more questions than it answers.
Also available as an ebook.