Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
Books That Kids Like as Much as Dog Man
If you know a kid who loves the Dog Man series, and you are looking for some similar books, you have come to the right place. I have been a youth librarian for 20 years, and recently I polled all my library friends to see which other books they’ve been recommending. Following are 10 of the books they say Dog Man fans like the best.
You can find lots of read-alike lists on the internet, but I’ve found that sometimes people sneak in some books they know or like, but don’t really retain much of the character of the book that the child liked in the first place. Here, I’ve chosen the ones that I think are most similar to Dog Man, realizing that all books have unique characteristics, and there is nothing exactly like Dog Man out there.
What’s the Appeal of Dog Man?
It helps to try to figure out why kids like Dog Man so much. If you haven’t read the book, here’s a quick introduction. The first thing you need to know is that Pilkey (the author & Illustrator) tells us these graphic novels were written and illustrated by schoolyard friends, George and Harold, who met in kindergarten. The idea goes that they wrote quite a few Dog Man comics before they moved on to the Captain Underpants series, Pilkey’s first series to be published. (And by the way, here’s an article I wrote about books that are like Captain Underpants.) Now, the story goes, George and Harold have dug into their early works, and have published them with the Dog Man series. And, indeed, the lettering and illustrations do have the look of those made by boys in early elementary school.
Now, to the story itself. Dog Man didn’t start out as Dog Man. At first he was a policeman and his trusty police dog. When the cat, Petey, leaves a bomb out as a trap, they try to defuse it, but sadly it blows up on them. “OH, NO!” wails the police officer. “I forgot dogs are colored [sic] blind!!!!”
The two are rushed to the hospital. The policeman’s body is fine, but his “head is dying.” “Rats!” says the policeman. “I sure hate my dying head!” As for the dog, his head is fine, but his body is dying. An astute nurse has an idea, and the doctors cut off the dog’s head and attach it to the policeman’s body. And now you have him—Dog Man!
The charm in this story is that it is so on-the-nose with how a 7-year-old tells a story. This origin tale lays out the plot points in a matter-of-fact manner, knowing that blowing up a man and a dog are just occurrences on the way to getting the kind of hero you want to read about. So even though it sounds rather grim, kids get the outlandish humor of it and are ready to read about the adventures of this half-dog, half-man character.
Why These Books Are So Popular
Here are the main reasons I think Dog Man has become so popular:
- Humor: They tickle the 6- to 10-year-old funnybone.
- Inventiveness: They come up with plots that kids would think up themselves. In one, the naughty cat, Petey, comes up with invisibility spray, leading to interesting situations and chaos. In another, Petey manages to erase all the words from all the books in the world, leading to a big epidemic of dumbness.
- Animal Characters: Kids love dogs and the action of crime fighters. So what could be better than a doggy crime fighter?
- Drawings: Graphic novels tap into the appeal that comics have always had for kids. And in Dog Man, the drawings are much like those a 7-year-old would make. Kids feel like these are books they could have written and illustrated, and indeed, many children do write their own Dog Man comics.
With the following list of read-alike, I’ve tried to narrow it down only to the ones I think capture wacky humor and characters in similar ways to Dog Man.
1. InvestiGators by John Patrick Green
How it’s like Dog Man: Full-color graphic novel, animal crime-fighters, humor
How it’s different: Slightly higher reading level, humor includes quite a few puns, one continuous story
InvestiGators is the first in a series that has two crime-fighting alligators, named Mango and Brash, tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice. They are investi-gators. Get it? It’s the first of many puns you’ll encounter along the way. There’s also a “cracker-dile” who has a mishap with some cracker dough, but that comes later.
Our hero ‘gators are called in to investigate when a mustachioed chef goes missing, and from there we head out into an action-packed story with bakeries, a giant cake, a scientist convention, a triceratops in a raincoat, a surgeon who is also a helicopter, and the aforementioned cracker-dile. If you get a child this book, I think you can be assured that child will read it more than once, just to look for the jokes and plot points they missed the first time around.
Even though the action is pretty wacky, I found the humor to be a little more subtle and dry, and I think it will bring a chuckle to the kids who are on the same wavelength. One of the first lines that made me smile was at the beginning when Mango and Brash have different guesses about their assignment:
- Mango: Fine. You know what will settle this?
- Brash: This file that has our assignment in it?
- Mango: I was gonna say “thumb war,” but okay, read the file, I guess.
At another point, the two have to maintain their cover by baking a giant cake for a mysterious stranger:
- Brash: Now get back out there…, and keep an eye open for anything suspicious.
- Mango: I will! Good thing there’s nothing suspicious about baking a giant cake for a large, mysterious figure wearing a raincoat on a sunny day!”
And, just because I like food humor so much, I want to mention that the chef says at one point, “He was the most unsavory character…though maybe he’d be all right with a sharp cheese and some prosciutto…”
If you have kids who like to draw, Green includes a little tutorial in the back, showing them draw Mango and Brash.
2. Max Meow: Cat Crusader by John Gallagher
How it’s like Dog Man: Full-color graphic novel, features animal crime-fighter, similar reading level, good-natured humor
How it’s different: Book is one continuous story, rather than split into smaller episodes, like Dog Man is
Max Meow: Cat Crusader, the first book in the “Max Meow” series has the Cat Crusader’s origin story and his first adventure. When we first meet our main character, he is an aspiring online star who only has 12 followers. When he goes to visit his scientist friend, Mindy, he accidentally eats part of a meatball that has come to earth as a meteor from space. It turns out that the meatball has given him superpowers: super strength, the ability to fly, and an electric tail.
By this time, we have also met the bad guy, a rat with a not-too-bright robot sidekick who would rather do magic tricks than carry out evil plans. The villain, of course, wants to get his hands on the meatball from outer space.
The Cat Crusader has to overcome quite a few obstacles as he protects the valuable meatball. He has to fend off a giant T-rex dinosaur, once a decoration on a mini-golf course, which has come to life. He also has to deal with a plot to discredit him as well as the temporary loss of his superpowers. (Space meatball energy, it turns out, doesn’t last forever.) Most of the humor comes from the wacky situations, though the narrator does get in a few jokes along the way. At the end of the first chapter we see a series of questions:
- “WHAT will Mindy show Max?
- WHY is there a floating whale in Mindy’s lab?
- HOW did Mindy build that elevator?
- Almost NONE of these questions are answered in the next chapter! *
- *But PLEASE read it anyway!”
Parents will appreciate that the scientist, Mindy, is a strong female character. She is a smart young woman who often helps Max Meow solve problems. She has also made such contributions to science as the Frisbee pizza, butterfly tacos that fly into your mouth (don’t worry, they’re not real butterflies), self-tying shoelaces, and the infinity lunchbox, which is bigger on the inside than the outside.
Dog Man fans will find that this series also has good-natured humor and inventive story lines.
3. Sparks! by Ian Boothby
How it’s like Dog Man: Full-color graphic novel, animal main characters with human intelligence, humorous situations, similar reading level,
How it’s different: One continuous story
It’s not often that you find a book that starts like this: “I am a litter box and this is my story!”
Yes, Sparks! starts with an intelligent, sentient, robotic litter box, which is capable of monitoring electronic communications, delivering animal food, and always accommodating if you need to take a poo in it. Don’t fear, though, even though we have a little scatological humor here, it doesn’t dominate the book.
Our story actually focuses on a couple of cats that were captured by an evil scientist in a lab until one of them, named August, got smart enough from the experiments to plan an escape, and the other one, Charlie, was action-oriented and brave enough to go through with the plan. August built a motorized 2-cat dog suit that they now use to go around rescuing people in trouble.
The evil villain—an alien who has disguised itself as a baby girl—of course wants to take over the world by controlling the minds of all the animals, and it’s up to the cats to stop it. It’s a typical cartoon plot, but underneath it’s a story about two friends who work together to overcome their limitations and fears. It turns out August is still traumatized by her experiences in the lab, leading to some surprisingly poignant scenes as she deals with her fears.
This book has a fast-paced, action-oriented feel to it, and it’s no wonder since the author, Ian Boothby, has written comic books for Scooby-Doo, The Powerpuff Girls, and The Simpsons.
4. Catwad #1: It’s Me by Jim Benton
How it’s like Dog Man: Full-color graphic novel, animal characters, humor, same reading level
How it’s different: Bigger cartoon panels, series of short gags, humor comes from contrast between grumpy cat and happy enthusiastic cat, humor a little more snarky
Author Jim Benton is best known for chapter book series like Dear Dumb Diary or Franny K Stein, and in Catwad #1: It’s Me, he moves to an early reader graphic novel series. Unlike most graphic novels, which carry one story throughout the entire book, Catwad consists of short 3-6 page gags, much like you would see in the daily comics section of a newspaper, except that they are in color.
The panels are bigger than those you would see in Dog Man. Because of that, the words can be printed bigger, and the illustrations are less crowded, making it easier for beginning readers to interpret the page.
This series has essentially two characters: a grumpy blue cat named Catwad and an enthusiastic dim-witted cat named Blurmp.
Like cartoons, this series goes for lots of sight gags and physical humor. In one segment, Catwad is sitting in a “relaxation chair” while Blurmp tries out the different mechanized settings. After he contorts the chair into several painful positions, we can see Catwad looking limp and worse for the wear at the end of his ordeal, moaning “aaaghh.” Always cheerful, Blurmp says, “Now that sounds like someone who feels really good.” Catwad whimpers “Please don’t make me feel any gooder [sic].”
Another segment has the two staying at a dumpy hotel which Blurmp thinks is awesome. In the middle of the night, Catwad watches in horror as a line of spiders march into Blurmp’s mouth and he swallows them. Finally, he says, “Holy smokes you just ate 1,742 spiders!” Blurmp replies, “I told you this place was awesome! Free breakfast in bed!” I have to admit that one gave me the heebie-jeebies, but Benton does have his finger on the pulse of grade-school humor.
5. The Epic Origin of Super Potato by Artur Laperla
How it’s like Dog Man: Full-color graphic novel, similar reading level, crime fighter who has been altered, humorous asides
How it’s different: Bigger picture panels, shorter book, dry humor from narrator
Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man seems to function quite well as a half dog/half human crime fighter, just as the hero of The Epic Origin of Super Potato seems to function pretty well as…as a potato, of course. He wasn’t always a potato, and it did take him rather longer to gain his confidence than Dog Man who seemed to know he was a crime-fighting genius from the get-go.
In this origin story, we have a typical brawny superhero by the name of Super Max who starts a typical day on a mission to retrieve a stolen statue from his usual adversary, Dr. Malevolent. He has been righting the fellow’s wrongs from quite some time, but this time the evil doctor has a surprise: a ray gun that changes our hero into a potato!
The premise is kooky, and the drawings portray the varied emotions of a potato surprisingly well, but the real humor of the book lies in the narrator, you know, the voice that provides background and explanation not found in the actions and words of the characters.
Once our hero is transformed, he at first is overwhelmed and begins to cry, the narrator tells us, “like a baby surrounded by onions.” After he pulls himself together, he starts to walk home, assuming he can’t fly any more. “But wait!” the narrator exclaims. “He hasn’t even tried.” As we see Super Potato dispiritedly beginning to cross the road, the narrator tells us he is going to have to try flying soon because “…he heads across the street without looking first. Which you should never do, even if you’re the world’s saddest potato.”
Spoiler alert—Super Potato discovers he can indeed fly, and what’s more, he still has his super strength. Soon he is off to save the day from Dr. Malevolent who has been turning everyone he meets into a potato. Though Super Potato can destroy the ray gun, it turns out to be harder to “de-potato-ize” someone that he had hoped, which leaves our hero in the shape of a potato for his next adventure in the second book of the series.
This full-color graphic novel has bigger panels than Dog Man, and the bigger words may be even easier for beginning readers. It also has fewer pages, and makes for a quick read.
6. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel
How it’s like Dog Man: Illustrations on every page, humorous story, animal main character, packed with jokes, similar reading level
How it’s different: Story focuses on household humor that stems from the grumpy nature of the cat and the narrator’s voice, black and white full-page illustrations
I think author Nick Bruel may have pioneered the type of layouts you see in books like Bad Kitty Gets a Bath and others in his “Bad Kitty” series. Almost every 2-page spread has full-page illustrations accompanied by just a few lines of text. For struggling readers who are daunted by big blocks of text, books like these provide a more pleasant reading experience, especially since children can read the whole book relatively quickly.
This biggest draw—and the reason that children flock to them in the library where I work—is that these books are so funny. They have a narrator who explains what is going on, but also loads the book up with lots of humor along the way. For example at one point the recurring character Uncle Murray says, “Me, I like to shower in the morning while I sing old show tunes like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’..!” The narrator deadpans, “Cats hate showers, too. And they rarely sing old show tunes.”
At another part, we see an illustrated chart of the things a person needs to have on hand when giving a cat a bath: suit of armor, your doctor on speed dial, lots and lots of bandages, plane tickets and a map to your Aunt Pauline’s house where you can hide when this is over…etc. Anyone who has seen an angry, wet cat will chuckle in recognition.
Looking through the illustrations again for this review, I’m struck by how lively the action is. Here, we have kitty tearing up the stairs; there we have her freaking out when the water touches her. And the picture of her as a grumpy, newly-dried puffball is priceless.
Teachers and parents may like that Bruel actually provides some information in his books. In Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, he explains how cat fur works and why they should always be bathed in warm water. He also includes a few fun facts about the kinds of cats that actually do like to get into the water, for instance tigers and Fishing Cats. All in all, Bad Kitty is an enjoyable series that emphasizes fun with a few facts along the way.
7. Stick Dog by Tom Watson
How it’s like Dog Man: Illustrations that look they are drawn by a kid, animal character, humor
How it’s different: Observational humor, higher reading level, format is chapter book with numerous illustrations
Remember when I said part of the appeal of Dog Man is that children can make similar drawings themselves? They can essentially create fan art and write their own stories using the same characters. It is easy for them to do the same with Stick Dog, a character of a dog who is drawn much as you would draw a stick person. The author explains, “He’s called Stick Dog because I don’t know how to draw. I mean, I do know how to draw—I just don’t know how to draw very well.” When he shows his drawing to his art teacher, she scrunches up her face and says, “Dogs don’t have right angles, Tom.” He replies, “Stick dogs do.”
And he’s right. One can have just as funny a story with a stick dog as you can with any other kind of drawing. The humor in these books is a bit understated, but I think many kids will get a kick out of it. In Chapter 3, the narrator tells us, “Stick Dog has a nice home and good friends. But when it comes to being a dog, there’s something else that’s really super-important. I bet you can guess what that is. If you’re a dog, you can almost certainly guess what it is. Then again, if you’re a dog and you’re reading this story, then you should probably stop reading right now. You may not know this, but dogs that can read are extremely rare. And that means you have the opportunity to be rich and famous and have all the rawhide bones and puppy snicker-snacks in the world.”
The format of this book is different from Dog Man, but I think a book like this could serve as a good bridge from graphic novels to chapter books, which have fewer pictures and bigger blocks of text. Stick Dog has blocks of text formed into paragraphs like a traditional novel, but it also has numerous illustrations, almost one per page. Readers who feel intimidated by big blocks of text will appreciate that numerous illustrations break up the words. The print is also big, and the lines are spaced far apart, making this book less daunting. Even at around 250 pages, it is a surprisingly fast read. This format has proved enormously popular in book series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate, and judging by how many times the Stick Dog books get checked out at the library where I work, the format is working well for them, too.
8. The Infamous Ratsos by Kara Lareau
How it’s like Dog Man: Humorous book with animal characters
How it’s different: Very short chapter book with illustrations, slightly higher reading level, humor depends on children understanding those characters are having a hard time being as tough as the image they want to project
In The Infamous Ratsos, two rats, Louie and Ralphie, are brothers who want to be “tough, tough, tough.” “We are not softies,” they say. Together they plot a variety of mischievous tricks that backfire on them in unusual ways.
First, they steal a hat from a big badger. But, to their surprise, they find out that the badger had actually stolen the hat from a little mouse named Tiny. He thanks them for getting his hat back, and the teacher commends them for sticking up to the big bully.
Next, they conspire to shovel snow up in front of a store owner’s door so that he can’t get in to his building. But in the process, they get turned around and end up actually shoveling the snow away from his door and sidewalk. The store owner gratefully tells them, “It would have taken me all day to shovel that. I’m going to tell every one of my customers how thoughtful you are!” Louie, who is the one who thinks up their nefarious ideas, is left insisting, “We’re not thoughtful, we’re tough!”
By now, readers will have figured out that all the rats’ mischief-making ideas actually end up making the brothers seem nice. So when they hatch a plan to make a super yucky sandwich for the new kid, children will be trying to predict how that idea will go wrong. The same goes for the scene in which they plan to smear soap on Mrs. Porcupini’s windows.
When they get home after a day of failed mischief-making, their father is waiting for them with a letter from the school talking about how kind they’ve been. They try to persuade their father that they’ve been trying to be mean and tough like him, but they find out that he would like them to be more kind, especially when he thinks about their deceased mother. The story ends sweetly, with the brothers and their father doing what they can to help the people in the neighborhood.
The story shouldn’t be too daunting for new readers and could be a good bridge from graphic novels to chapter books. It is only about sixty pages long, with large black and white illustrations every 2 or 3 pages. The print is large, with lots of space between the lines. It won Theodor Seuss Geisel Award (the award name for Dr. Seuss) for distinguished books for beginning readers in 2017.
9. The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
How it’s like Dog Man: Illustrations cover every page, humorous book with fantastical characters, similar reading level
How it’s different: Larger black and white pictures give more of a feeling of space on the page
If kids like Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man, it’s a fair bet that they might like the things that he finds amusing, and he provided the promotional blurb for The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet: “Charming characters, hilarious illustrations, and a big bunch of fun!”
The Yeti Files has a different look with its large black and white illustrations, but it still has that wacky sense of humor tucked in to the corners of the story. It also has a more conversational tone, with the main character directly addressing the reader. On page one, he says, “Hi there! I’m Blizz Richards. And I’m a yeti. Nice to meet you.” He then shows us a poster with an illustration of a yeti, certain body parts helpfully labeled. For the brain, we see “IQ somewhere between Einstein and a land tortoise.” The diagram also draws attention to things like “gigantic heart,” “sticky fingers,” and “stinky elephant feet. He explains that he’s a cryptid—“a hidden animal whose existence has never been proven”—like unicorns, mermaids, and werewolves.
The action starts moving along when he gets an invitation to the Bigfeet Family Reunion. The wrinkle in the plot is that whenever the Bigfeet get together, they have to keep on the lookout for the cryptozoologist George Vanquist, a fellow introduced as “The Bad Guy” in Chapter 3. Vanquist is determined to take photos and expose the yetis who “have all taken a powerful oath never to be seen by the outside world.” Blizz calls in some friends to help out—one of Santa’s elves, a goblin, an artic fox, and a unicorn—and together they work to foil Vanquist’s nefarious plans. With good guys to root for and bad guys to boo and hiss, this is a good-hearted story with some elements of melodrama.
The full-page illustrations carry much of the action, and most of the pages have only one or two sentences, making the book a fast and satisfying read to beginning readers.
10. Real Pigeons Eat Danger by Andrew McDonald
How it’s like Dog Man: Illustrations on every page, action and derring-do, humorous book with animal characters, fast patter of jokes
How it’s different: Slightly more sophisticated and wackier jokes, reading level a tad higher, more pages
Real Pigeons Eat Danger contains three mystery-adventure stories featuring three crime-fighting pigeons named Rock, Frillback, and Tumbler, who save birdkind from all kinds of threats. In the first episode, “The Bird in the Bottle” our hero, Rock, finds a twig (“pigeons adore twigs”) which he names Trent. He intuits that Trent could somehow be a secret weapon, and while he is pondering this mystery, someone come up to him with a “BIRD-MERGENCY,” in a plot twist I can say I’ve never encountered before in a story: someone is buttering birds and stuffing them into bottles. The story unfolds by showing how they catch the culprit and foil his plans.
It’s worth giving a few examples of the off-beat humor in this book. When the pigeons are discussing their experiences with sticks, one says, “I ate a twig once. I mistook it for a very small breadstick.” Another says, “Twigs are the fingernails of trees.” In the second adventure, the pigeons are enamored with a piece of string which they decide to fashion into friendship bracelets. “Put them around your ankles,” says Rock, “because we don’t have wrists!”
Each page features black and white drawings that carry much of the action of the story with birds darting and somersaulting through the pages. It’s almost as though the words have to thread their way through the raucous drawings to add their part to the story. The resulting layouts are dynamic and should help carry a new reader through the action because there are no big, daunting blocks of text.
© 2020 Adele Jeunette