"Max was a dog with a happy life. He loved his perfect home, his family, and his Alice.
Everything was perfect.
Then Unicorn came along and ruined everything." (p. 2)
"Max munched and munched.
He needed a solution to Unicorn's magical menace.
Max was very distracted by snacks.
It took him a minute to realize something strange was happening.
He was glowing and floating far above the ground!" (p. 14)
The first page of this story, as seen in the “Excerpt”, sets the stage for the familiar tale of a happy home invaded (!) by a new friend/pet/sibling and the process of settling into a new family or friendship dynamic. The front endpapers show readers a glimpse of Unicorn as he arrives: a neighborhood with generic sidewalks and houses, down which a wagon of very pink luggage is being pulled by a white rump with a pink tail. Following this is the title page that shows a trail of paw prints and broken rainbow-colored treats (they look like dog biscuits) left by a dark grey rump and tail, hinting at what will happen to Max before the end.
Unicorn arrives out of the blue and makes Max uncomfortable by bedazzling his sweater, breaking his toy, and drooling over his food. Instead of the usual depiction of a resentment towards the newcomer, there is a subtler exploration here of how Unicorn’s sudden addition to the family makes Max feel excluded: Max doesn’t actively dislike Unicorn but feels that the family are both neglecting the activities they used to share with him (such as walks and “scratchies”), and leaving him out of the new activities they share with Unicorn, such as baking rainbow cookies. “No one asked Max if he liked rainbows. And Max loved rainbows.” (p. 8) Stressed, Max sneaks into the pantry at night and snacks on what he thinks are Barky Bites but are actually Unicorn’s Rainbow Bitz which give him a sparkly multicolored glow and levitate him a couple of feet off the floor. Alice and Unicorn try to figure out what happened to Max, which Max interprets as their continued neglect of him, and, as he binges again on the Rainbow Bitz, this time he creates a thunderstorm in the house. Alice calms Max by scratching his belly and explains about the Rainbow Bitz being behind the magical effects. The whole family agrees to pay more attention to Max who is shown sharing a cloud and some rainbows with Unicorn but eating his own treats from a separate bowl. A bird pecks at a stray Rainbow Bitz in the grass and develops a rainbow halo as a brown truck with “Magic Movers” on the side drives into view on the back endpapers.
Doggone Magic! is very pink and purple in terms of the cover and general scheme. Pages are numbered, and the text stays in a block on the white left-hand page of each double spread while a full-page illustration takes up each page on the right. Occasionally there will be some smaller illustration around the text on the left-hand pages to make a point. The illustrations can sometimes tell a different story from the text as when Max laments that the family are having too much fun with Unicorn to remember him when, in fact, they are shown fleeing the yard under a Unicorn-created hail of ice-cream and sprinkles. The style is similar to CGI animated film, looking more like Pixar or Dreamworks titles do than Spongebob, the Moomins, or Garfield: flat and fuzzy in texture; shapes are simplified and made of blocks of color and shading, but nothing has outlines; outsize heads with huge eyes and exaggerated expressions on dumpy or stick-figure bodies. Max is a small, dark grey dog, possibly a Scottish Terrier, and the only pet in a family comprising Mom, Dad, Benny, an unnamed baby, and Alice, an observant and inquisitive girl. The family have black (Dad, Alice, unnamed baby) or brown (Mom and Benny) hair and black eyes, and the ambiguous golden-beige skin tone that could be any kind of non-white except Black (Asian of various ethnicities, possibly Indigenous, Latinx, mixed heritage, etc. They look East Asian to me, but I could just be seeing them that way). The house and lifestyle are too generic (suburban, North America) to specify an ethnicity or culture. Unicorn is cream-colored with pink mane and tail, gold-and-orange horn, and black eyes with white heart accents in them.
The writing, pacing, and plot are direct and capable. As demonstrated by words like “scratchies” or “tummy patsies”, the tone is informal and colloquial. It’s interesting that instead of Max developing his own friendship with Unicorn that makes him feel better about the change in his family (the more common resolution I’ve seen in this type of story), the conflict is resolved by everyone agreeing to pay more attention to Max. Nevertheless, this is a version of a story that has been told many, many times, and, while every storyteller adds their own flourishes, there is not much to improve on the classic formula. Doggone Magic! is a dependable, accessible tale for those who like unicorns, dogs, or both.
Saeyong Kim is a librarian who lives and works in British Columbia.