Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Bow Wow"

Spencer Quinn is the pen name for Peter Abrahams, Quinn handling all the dog-narrated material, including the Chet and Bernie mysteries. He won an Edgar Allen Poe award for Reality Check, best young adult mystery, 2010, and an Agatha for Down the Rabbit Hole, best young adult mystery, 2006.

Quinn applied the Page 69 Test to Bow Wow, the second Bowser and Birdie novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Bow Wow is not the page I would have picked to show what the story is about, but it’s a special page in some ways. On page 68, Birdie and her friends Nola and Junior are swimming in the bayou when Bowser (the canine narrator of the Bowser and Birdie series – but not a talking dog!) starts to herd Junior back to shore. Nola explains that Bowser always herds the weakest swimmer. This gets Junior’s competitive juices flowing and they have a race to shore. “Nola won with me next, sort of on top of Birdie for some reason, and Junior last by plenty.” Junior tells Nola that her winning is a surprise.

First line of page 69 is Nola’s:
“Why is that?”

Junior shrugged. “Because, like swimming. You know what they say.”

It got very quiet down there by the swimming hole. “No, Junior, I don’t,” Nola said. “What do ‘they’ say?”

Junior tried to meet her gaze, but could not. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Then why did you say it?” Birdie said. Hey! She sounded real angry. That hardly ever happened with Birdie. Had Junior done something bad? I sidled over in his direction, just in case he had a mind to … I didn’t know what.”
What’s this about? It’s been implied earlier in the series that Nola is at least partly African-American. There’s a lot of identity politics in children’s literature these days, the kind of thing I stay away from. I stay away from all things didactic: nothing bothered me more when I was a kid reader. But this scene felt like a natural spot to bring up that old canard about black people not being good swimmers. Totally false, as I learned long ago during my spearfishing days in the Bahamas (where I learned – at close hand – about bull sharks, one of whom, Mr. Nice Guy, plays an important role in Bow Wow).

Junior apologizes abjectly, and in that apology we learn unsettling things about his home life.
Finally, Nola held up her hand. “Okay, okay,” she said.

Junior wiped his face with his sleeve, turned back into his usual self quite speedily. “Friends?” he said.

“Don’t push it,” Nola said.
Then comes a strange and enormous splash from out in the bayou. End of page 69.
Visit Chet the Dog's blog and Facebook page, and Spencer Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Audrey (September 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Pearl (August 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue