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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Elise and the Second-hand Dog
by Bjarne Reuter
Age Range: 9-11
Elise is often lonely. Her mum is far away in Brazil helping to finish the building of a suspension bridge and her dad is a musician busy trying to get by in Mysundegade, Denmark where they live. Elise asks for a dog to keep her company but her dad is less than keen; no one buys a dog without giving it careful thought first he tells her. “We bought the red sofa without giving it careful thought …” replies Elise. “Couldn’t we buy a second-hand dog?” she asks knowing that her dad had bought a second-hand bike. When Elise comes across a dog in Petifar’s Pet Salon that isn’t much bigger than a rabbit, smells of cheese and suffers from asthma she thinks he’s the sweetest dog in the world, so how can her dad refuse?
Elise decides her second-hand dog will be called Prince Valiant the Great. As it turns out he is no ordinary dog. He can talk, his name is McAduddi and he hails from Tobermony in Scotland. He also has an annoying habit of calling her ‘Lassie’, sings sea shanties and tells her a ribald story about the invention of the bagpipes.
Elise and the Second-hand Dog by Danish author Bjarne Reuter is sure to capture any child’s imagination. Whether it’s Elise’s ceremony to christen her dog, a paw test to establish his pedigree, the hilarious scenes in Papa Giorgio’s Best Pizza Bar, her cool young aunt Fie taking her roller-skating or the imaginary journey to the Amazon rainforest quirky humour abounds.
Amidst the comedic scenes Reuter cleverly weaves Elise’s loneliness and the empty space left by her mother’s absence which filters through the text in her conversations with McAduddi and her grandma. There’s also a real sense of Danish traditions too with the celebration of Halloween – donning ghostly costumes, drinking glasses of ‘blood’, that tastes remarkably like tomato juice, and eating meatloaf while waiting for the witching hour where anything can happen!
At the back of the book Reuter explains that the novel is partly based on a true story about his granddaughter, who is also called Elise – it’s about “missing people, loneliness and hope – and about a child’s imagination”.
A funny and poignant novel with atmospheric comic-style black and white illustrations by Kirsten Raagaard and a polished translation from Siân Mackie that captures the humour and pathos so perfectly.
Reuter is a veritable literary institution in Denmark and one of the most widely translated Danish authors of children’s literature. Elise and the Second-hand Dog appears in English after a gap of fourteen years - The Ring of the Slave Prince (2004); The Boys from St. Petri (1996) and Buster’s World (1990). Elise and the Second-hand Dog is one of four honour titles from BookTrust’s inaugural ‘In Other Words’ initiative in 2017. The book is also being made into a TV series and film in Denmark.