Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Gifted: Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe

Spike, Ugliest Dog in the UniverseSpike, Ugli­est Dog in the Uni­verse
Debra Frasi­er, author and illus­tra­tor
Beach Lane Books, Octo­ber 2013

Ever since I saw my 10-year-old niece pose in front of the tele­vi­sion, try­ing to imi­tate the super­mod­els at the end of the run­way, my aware­ness of the beau­ty cul­ture in this coun­try has been acute. We took her to the Mall of Amer­i­ca that week­end and all she want­ed was glit­ter eye shad­ow. No Camp Snoopy. No amaze­ment at the 10-foot-tall dinosaurs at Legoland. Only eye shad­ow. She’s a mom now, with babes of her own, but my per­cep­tions of beau­ty were chal­lenged that day and I’ve nev­er got­ten over it.

In this book, Spike’s own­er puts him up for Ugli­est Dog in the Uni­verse … and Spike wins. Short­ly after­wards, Spike’s own­er aban­dons his dog, leav­ing him tied up with­out food or shel­ter.

The sto­ry is told using the first-per­son voice, so we feel Spike’s embar­rass­ment at win­ning the con­test, bewil­der­ment at being aban­doned, and his need to be adopt­ed by Joe, the next-door-neigh­bor boy. First per­son is a nat­ur­al voice. We speak in it when we say “I lis­tened,” or “I saw,” or “I was the one who want­ed to be loved.” But it can be tricky to write in first per­son. As the nar­ra­tor, you have to be present to tell the sto­ry. You have to see Joe and his mom talk­ing about adopt­ing you. You have to see the cul­prit try­ing to com­mit a crime so you can rush to the res­cue.

When I first read Spike, I thought “what a per­fect present for the teach­ers on my gift-giv­ing list.” Not only is this a live­ly way to learn about the first-per­son voice, but it’s a sto­ry with ten­sion and excite­ment and that all-impor­tant hope for adop­tion. It’s an empa­thet­ic sto­ry that pulls the read­er through to the sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. Spike mod­els cre­ative writ­ing in a way that will inspire kids.

Visu­al­ly, it’s an excit­ing book because the illus­tra­tions are almost entire­ly done with blue jeans! From the top-stitched seams that out­line the curv­ing road, to the tat­tered pock­ets that frame essen­tial words, to the belt loops that high­light aspects of the page, this is an inven­tive use of fab­ric for illus­tra­tion. You’ll also spot ging­ham, flan­nel, and lace … mate­ri­als that are read­i­ly avail­able for bud­ding artists to cre­ate their own books. (Lock your wed­ding dress away in a clos­et.)


With her char­ac­ter­is­tic thor­ough­ness, author and illus­tra­tor Debra Frasi­er pro­vides many book exten­sions for the teach­ers who will receive your gift. Debra’s web­site is replete with two slide shows, one about the mak­ing of the book and the oth­er about the writ­ing project that accom­pa­nies Spike’s nar­ra­tive. There are bib­li­ogra­phies of pic­ture books and nov­els about dogs. There are sto­ry-writ­ing pup­pets for dog-lovers and cat-lovers. Each of these address­es lit­er­a­cy in spe­cif­ic ways.

Long a teacher favorite, Debra Frasi­er cre­ates books that read­i­ly become trea­sured in class­rooms and on home book­shelves. Spike is no excep­tion. Stu­dents’ favorite ques­tion for an author is often “tell us about your pets.” This book invites kids to share the writ­ten sto­ry of their own pets … or the pet they long to adopt.

Spike, Ugli­est Dog in the Uni­verse is about what we con­sid­er to be beau­ti­ful. The word is used in Debra Frasier’s nar­ra­tive sev­er­al times but it does not refer to out­ward appear­ance. Spike chal­lenges our ideas about what is beau­ti­ful and what is ugly … and we’re all the bet­ter for it.

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