Blowing in the Wind: John Sutherland on the Flatulent Pooch Captivating the Nation's Children

Article excerpt

The superstores that have revolutionised the US book trade proudly proclaim themselves to be "as large as public libraries". Like libraries, they have a distinct sociology. Students sit for hours in the coffee annexe, working on their laptops. People hog the easy chairs because the bookstores are--as Starbucks advertises itself--"safe places" in a hard world.

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Like other outlets, my local Borders in Pasadena boasts a thriving children's section. "Read together," its banner instructs. Mothers (always mothers) sit on spacious pile carpets with their offspring, planting the subliminal message that "Reading is fun".

Dominating the display racks of the children's section is a series of picture books that have regularly hit the number-one spot on the New York Times bestseller lists. They showcase the heroic canine "Walter the Farting Dog". As the first book in the series recounts, Walter was brought home from the pound as a family pet for two children, Betty and Billy. An unlovely mutt, Walter's charmlessness is exacerbated by his incorrigible flatulence. Father decrees he must go back to the pound. The children protest. Setting the pattern for the series, Walter goes on to save the day. Burglars break into the house, intent on stealing the family VCR. Walter is no pit bull. The crooks tie him up and gag his jaw with duct tape. Walter musters all his powers, and breaks wind so loudly that the alarm is sounded. The VCR is safe. …