The Underdogs

­Scholastic. (Underdogs: Bk. 1). Oct. 2021. 160p. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781338732726.
Gr 1-3–Four furred friends, Nova, Peanut, Harley, and Duke, are far from school stars at Barksdale Academy. Each year, the young canines of Barksdale take the K-9 agility test, and each year, these “Underdogs” are outshined by their high-performing classmates. But this year will be different, according to Nova. She is determined to get her ragtag team to the top. Nova has her work cut out for her, as each of the underdogs has to overcome a unique challenge—Nova’s lack of coordination, Peanut’s mess aversion, Harley’s squirrel distractibility, and Duke’s fear of heights. Not only do the plucky pups have personal obstacles to surmount, they endure teasing and embarrassment at the paws of their more agile classmates. After many valiant tries and as many flubs, it seems unlikely that the Underdogs will pass the test. Luckily, Nova has an idea that will get her team to the finish line on their own terms. West skillfully tackles creative problem-solving and self-acceptance while depicting school situations that young readers will find familiar. There are some sharply funny moments; fans of Captain Underpants and Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys may wish for even more. May’s quirky and cartoonish depictions of the Barksdale dogs are spot-on.
VERDICT This first installment in the “Underdogs” series has promise and appeal. A great fit for most early chapter collections.

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