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Only a couple of months ago on a visit to the local garden centre I spotted the book that was written by John Grogan called `Marley goes to school` and at the time that proved to be a very appropriate present for my small nephew who was just about to start his first term at Primary school.
I loaned the film version of `Marley and Me` from our local library and I have to admit that the film was not for me, as the film progressed I just felt more and more helpless and ended up in floods of tears !
But I love the vibrancy of John Grogan's books and mischievous Marley ( a very loveable Golden Labrador ) comes to life as you begin to read out the story.
John Grogan must be a very devoted and enthusiastic author, he writes with such verve and you can literally feel the pace hotting up as Marley gets himself in and out of hot water.
My nephew is six and he screams with delight at Marley's antics so John Grogan's `A Very Marley Christmas` seemed to be an ideal gift for him.
I don't think for one minute that you have to be an animal lover to appreciate Marley, they always say that dogs are human, take a look at some of the many changing faces of Marley as the story unfolds and you will see that the statement just has to be true.
Christmas is a magical time for children and John Grogan goes out of his way to make sure that it is a magical time for Marley too !
Marley is an excitable dog at the best of times but he senses a family celebration in the air and he decides that he is not going to be left out in any way shape or form. Marley wants in on the action, he can help the family with the festive preparations.
Or can he ?
Do many paws make light work or do they just wreak havoc ?!
The illustrations have been done by Richard Cowdrey and although some could see them as a little bit over the top I feel that the pictures `speak` and they hold the storyline together so well. Marley is portrayed as a real Labrador even though he can adopt more facial expressions than most humans put together.
The illustrations are charming, the bright colours demand a child's attention and once my nephew started to enjoy `Marley goes to school` he was hooked.
The storylines can almost be learned off pat by the children and as you turn the pages they know what fun there is ahead of them.
I think that you need to read the book aloud to get the full benefit from the story, once you get into the swing of changing your tone of voice and even adding the odd little bark or two you can manage to capture the moment perfectly.
John Grogan has made reading fun and this is one of the most important factors.
I am sure that you will have a good laugh at Marley's antics and that the laughter will be infectious !
The book is aimed at Key stage one ( aged 5-7).
It can be bought from the Amazon website for £4. ( paperback version)
ISBN -10 0007287232
As well as `A Very Marley Christmas` and `Marley goes to School` there is another book in the same series called `Bad Dog Marley`.
This one will have to go on my list of books to buy.
Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog was an international best-seller which sold almost 3 million copies (over 100 thousand in the UK), and thus, inevitably, generated a bit of a synergy project, with a movie now being made and already one picture book, Bad Dog Marley and a junior version of the original - Marley: A Dog Like No Other.
And thus for A Very Marley Christmas, because if there is something cuter and funnier than a misbehaving puppy, it must be a puppy in a Santa hat misbehaving around a Christmas tree.
And, so it is, actually. Despite awfully saccharine illustrations (especially the Mummy and the girl were rather nauseating, with exactly the same faces and a blond, cute Meg Ryan type of look), Marley's antics are just very, very funny. He pulls at the paper chains, eats the fairy lights, pees on the tree and finally, delivers the best present of all.
It is all described in a text that flows well and is full of exclamations, screams, woofs and barks which are fun to reproduce when reading aloud.
The pictures, even with their sickly Norman Rockwell's suburban family are dynamic, full of life (and full of Marley) and Christmasy detail. The expressions are clear - even small children will be able to recognise emotions depicted. There are two children in the story, which means that both slightly older children (up to the earlier years of primary school) and older toddlers and preschoolers will find themselves in the tale.
Marley is cutely delightful, and the mayhem he creates will bring tears of laughter and recognition not only to puppy owners (I never owned a puppy, just assuming here) but to anybody sharing Christmas with toddlers who tend to exhibit similar behaviour and are more likely to identify (or be identified by their parents and older siblings) with Marley than with the pre-verbal and exceedingly good baby Louie smugly painting a perfectly clean (and recognisable) snowman for the door.
As far as Christmas picture books go, not too bad at all, and a decent present or a book to get for the build-up period for anybody with young children, especially if they have a dog.
Paperback 32 pages