I had the pleasure of reading Jennifer Swanson’s first book Penny & Rio – The Mysterious Backyard Meeting and I enjoyed it a great deal, it had all of the elements needed in a children’s book. When I heard that her new book was out I immediately put it on my to do list. Once again Jennifer Swanson has done a very fine job. She has kept her two main characters Penny & Rio, Penny the every curious sleuth, and Rio the ever sleepy sloth! In The Locked Doghouse Mystery we get to meet a couple of new characters, Hobbes the Great Dane, and Squeaky the mouse.

I very much enjoyed the illustrations in the first book and when I noticed that a new illustrator, Swapan Debnath had been brought in I was a little apprehensive. However Swapan has done a spectacular job, and has kept the exact same style.

When you analyze what works in a children’s book there are several vital elements, an entertaining story line, an educational element, and good age appropriate illustrations. Jennifer Swanson scores high marks in all three categories.

The storyline itself concerns Squeaky the mouse being locked out of his home, an old dog house. Squeaky is distraught, there are some things that he desperately wants to recover, although he is loath to tell anyone what these items are.

Penny of course takes on the mission. With the help of Rio and Hobbes they hatch various plans to break into the doghouse. Of course the mission is much more complex than they had anticipated, and their schemes go awry. However through ‘dogged’ (pun intended) determination the group of friends do succeed and finally Squeaky reveals the secret of what is in the doghouse.

Penny & Rio – The Locked Doghouse Mystery is very much a book about family values. It is sometimes a real challenge to teach youngsters complex concepts, but Jennifer Swanson certainly seems to have the skills. This second book confirms my theory that this author has a very illustrious career ahead of her. Many people think of children’s books as being easy to write, that is a fallacy, children’s books are notoriously difficult to do well.

On a technical note, the book is printed in a nice friendly font, I am guessing Ariel and the point size is ideal for the beginning reader. This is a book that young people will get hours of enjoyment from, and parents will appreciate the educational value.

The Penny & Rio characters are actually based on a couple of real dogs, family pets, Jennifer Swanson reveals this on her web site. And I think from this photograph you can easily spot which is which 🙂

Penny & Rio is available at better bookstores everywhere, or you can order it online through Amazon. I am also hoping to interview Jennifer Swanson in the near future, I am looking forward to hearing about her future plans for Penny & Rio. There is also a delightful video that goes with the story.

Simon Barrett

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