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Space Dogs    by Justin Ball & Evan Croker order for
Space Dogs
by Justin Ball
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

BULLETIN FROM EARTH and OUTER SPACE - You are about to embark on a superb, adventurous journey. It all begins when canine Laika is plucked from the streets of Moscow and launched into space by Soviet Union Space Command. The craft disappears from the screens, when it plummets through a wormhole, landing on Gersbach, inhabited by very tiny, intelligent people, who 'stood only as tall as Laika's paw'. As Laika became accustomed to her new home, the tiny people came to love her. They didn't suspect that freeloaders arrived with Earth's space dog, until after Laika passed away. Then, the Gersbacians encounter menacing fleas - the size of big rodents next to the little people.

Colonel Bars, head of Gersbach's Guardian Service, solves the flea problem but, in his greed for power, keeps a few to breed into a 'special fighting force'. His villainous deeds discovered, Bars is imprisoned. Meanwhile, the wormhole has reopened, and a 'Disturbance Of Gravity' (D.O.G) registers on the city's monitors. Seizing the opportunity, Bars escapes from prison. For forty-nine years, the Gersbacians have been preparing a secret mission to travel to the world on the other side of the wormhole. They had built a prototype (dachshund shaped) craft, which is stolen by Bars. The Colonel is determined to own a 'D.O.G. source', (supposedly lawn-ornament rock gnomes) to gain 'the power to completely rule all of Gersbach'.

At Gersbach Space Command, Galactanauts - Commanders Belka Sparkleman and Strelka Frunkmaster are sent on a mission to destroy the source of D.O.G., in a second (terrier-shaped) spacecraft. They encounter an Earth family - the Buckleys, who face their own hard times, the loss of their farm forcing them to move to the city. Dad has an injured back, Mom makes some money packaging peppermint balls, and daughters Lucy and Amy contend with city schoolmates and the pangs of first love. Lucy's best friend is Sam Chan. The Buckleys adopt the two dogs (not knowing they are spacecrafts), naming them Flumpy and Nicky.

In one of umpteen engaging scenes, Lucy plays a game of toss and fetch with the space dogs. But Flumpy and Nicky possess something that ordinary dogs don't, i.e. 'an on-board tracking system that can predict within 99.999 percent accuracy' where and how the ball will travel. The Galactanauts become so enthralled with winning that Strelka tells Belka, 'If you slow down and try not to kill us both, I promise I'll buy you a ball of your very own'. Belka's reply is half truthful, 'It's not the ball! ... It's about maintaining our cover so we can successfully complete our mission!', i.e. destroy D.O.G. and capture Colonel Bars. Belka blows up the gnome, while Strelka and the craft are thrown onto their backside - 'His head felt like he'd spent a week in a subwoofer bin at a heavy metal concert.'

The saga really livens up when Lucy discovers she's holding a little man in her hands, and she and Sam begin to understand the dogs. Through Gersbacian translators, Belka, Strelka and Bars speak the Earth tongue. The Buckley teens and Sam try to determine which dog is telling the truth about their mission. Meanwhile, back in farm country, Uncle Gavin Buckley sights a big white rock jutting out of the ground. He attempts to uproot it with his tractor, then enlists others to help dig out the huge bone, which becomes another source of D.O.G. emission threat. Flumpy and Nicky are soon on the chase to reach the new D.O.G. source. One scene after another delivers hilarity, suspicion, camaraderie, heroic missions, an open wormhole, and exploding gnomes. The Galactanauts even apply their talents to fold origami for Sam's school assignment - into a unique shape that plays music!

Justin Ball and Evan Croker have created an action-packed, highly-imaginative tale of tails, based on canine space travel. They hold the reader's attention with subplots converging into a cross-country chase with a suspenseful, explosive climax. I highly recommend Space Dogs as a wonderful tail-wagging tale, a laugh-out-loud, not-to-be-missed read for junior readers, which is also fun for seniors, too.

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