A boy who can’t control his urge to win learns to calm himself with the help of a dog in Diana Duncan’s picture book Hugo the Winner.
In rhyming verse the story centers on Hugo, a boy who excels at sports and school but gets extremely upset when things don’t go his way. Hoping to calm him, his parents adopt a puppy named Barney, thinking the distraction will help Hugo relax. They bond instantly, but on a trip to the beach, Hugo’s competitiveness leads him to make a dangerous jump from a rock. When Barney follows suit, the pup is endangered by the tide and is injured, but Hugo stays calm and bandages Barney’s paw.
This story shows the impact a pet can have through unconditional love and an imparted sense of responsibility. Hugo’s character rings true, and the valuable lessons of sportsmanship and learning to relax and enjoy life are relatable.
The writing is enjoyable but the message becomes muddled after the beach incident. That experience demonstrates the danger of Hugo’s competitiveness, but his parents don’t address that. They praise his bravery but don’t point out that his impulsiveness nearly caused a tragedy. After the beach scene, Hugo and Barney sit under a tree as Hugo tells Barney about his favorite animals, veering from the story’s focus.
The book’s art is excellent, with expressive faces on humans and dog and a sense of vitality throughout. The only misstep comes when Hugo yells for Barney to dogpaddle and “hold fast” after the pup jumps; the illustration shows Barney jumping through the air but fails to impart the sense of danger the water brings.
Hugo ends the book as a “work in progress” rather than someone who has conquered his flaws. Perhaps that more effectively shows the vigilance required to change a bad habit.
While some revision would improve the story, this book is largely entertaining, with a self-improvement message that should resonate with its audience.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.