Sub-titled: ‘A cautionary tale for children and grown-ups’, this rhyming picture book tells the story of Digby, who drops his schoolbag on the floor and demands a pet that’s twice as big as Reuben’s guinea pig. ‘Daddy’s hair turned slightly grey “I’ll ring the pet shop right away”’. Doris the pet shop owner warns Digby that the guinea pig he chooses needs to have its long hair groomed carefully, but Digby’s red face means that Daddy offers to pay double the price. Of course Digby’s enthusiasm doesn’t last long, and the scenario is repeated. This time he chooses a dog who needs to be walked three times a day, and Daddy has to pay triple to be allowed to buy him, but he only gets one walk, as a friend comes to play. Digby continues to claim that his schoolfriends have better pets than he has, and a third trip to the Pet Shop has Daddy giving ‘all my money’ for Gus, a gorilla, even though they are warned that ‘if he is left alone too long, things can really go quite wrong’. Digby is proud of his really cool pet for a little while, but, inevitably, Gus does get bored, and escapes from his cage. He tidies Digby’s bedroom, walks the dog, grooms the guinea pig, (though his hairy hands are big) and Dad is pleased to see that apparently ‘Digby’ has gone to bed, good as gold. Gus has the boy Digby re-homed at the zoo, and the final double-page spread shows him in the gorilla cage, very grimy, and happily swinging about, with the caption ‘So please be warned and don’t forget- make sure you don’t neglect your pet!’
The adult reader can easily see that Daddy gives in to his demanding son far too easily, and children should be able to realise that pet ownership shouldn’t be a competition, but brings responsibility! In her dedication Catherine Emmett apologises to her father for her own broken promise as a child to walk the puppy, and children will be able to identify with dwindling enthusiasm for the chores associated with keeping a pet. This story takes the idea to an extreme, accompanied by whacky illustrations from David Tazzyman. Digby’s angry red face, until he gets his own way, is indeed scary, but this is an enjoyable book. The end papers are illustrated with pictures of pets by some year 3 children and Catherine Emmet’s own children, so young children might also like to draw their ideal pet.